PROVIDENCE, R.I. (May 26, 2022) – Yesterday, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee signed a bill into law to legalize marijuana for adult use, despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Joshua Miller (D) introduced Senate Bill 2430 (S2430) on March 1. Rep. Scott Slater (D) introduced the companion bill, House Bill 5793 (H7593). Under the new law, which went into immediate effect, the sale and possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis is legalized for adults ages 21 and older, with no more than 10 ounces for personal use kept at a person’s residence.
The new law also legalizes home-cultivation (up to six plants, no more than three mature), and the ability to purchase limited amounts of cannabis. It also facilitates the automatic review and expungement of past criminal records. Under the measure, records must be vacated no later than by July 1, 2024.
The law provides for 33 cannabis retail facilities to operate within the state. The state’s existing medical cannabis providers also will be able to apply for licenses to sell cannabis products to adults. Approved hybrid licensees could start to grow and manufacture marijuana for adult consumers starting August 1, 2022.
The senate passed the legislation by a vote of 32-6, and the House passed it by a vote of 55-16.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
All of this is illegal according to the federal government.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana in 2006. This removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition remains in effect. The legalization of cannabis for adult use would take another step and remove more state laws. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 19 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
The move to legalize adult-use marijuana in Rhode Island reveals another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.