Rhode Island proposes legalizing recreational marijuana

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 12, 2014 4:49 PM

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - Two Rhode Island legislators introduced a bill on Wednesday that could make the state the third in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

State Senator Joshua Miller and Representative Edith Ajello, both Democrats, said the bill would regulate and tax marijuana, treating it similarly to alcohol and making it available only to users age 21 and over.

The bill would allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) and to grow two marijuana plants. It also would set taxes on the drug, including a 10 percent sales tax.

"Regulation allows us to create barriers to teen access, such as ID checks and serious penalties for selling to those under 21," Ajello said. "Taxing marijuana sales will generate tens of millions of dollars in much-needed tax revenue for the state."

While possession of marijuana is still a crime under U.S. law, attitudes to the drug are changing. The Justice Department has said it will not interfere with states' efforts to regulate and tax marijuana, and President Barack Obama last month called it "a vice" no more dangerous than alcohol.

Washington state and Colorado this year legalized recreational use of pot, and 20 U.S. states allow it to be used for medical purposes. Fifteen states and a handful of cities have decriminalized pot, making possession a civil offense similar to a traffic violation.

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Rhode Island's two neighboring states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have both licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy last month predicted that the drug would be available with a prescription in his state by summer.

In August, Alaskans will vote on a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana smoking. Pro-pot activists in Oregon are also gathering signatures to put a legalization measure on the ballot in that state this year.

Rhode Island is the smallest of the 50 states. Its estimated population last year was a just over 1 million.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)