Rhode Island Wants To Be First State To Legalize Recreational Weed Without Ballot

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Lawmakers in Rhode Island will attempt to pass recreational legalization through the state legislature this year in a bid to compete with neighboring states in the burgeoning industry.

Rhode Island will become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the legislature rather than a popular ballot vote if they are successful. Rhode Island would join eight states across the country that have legalized the substance for recreational use, including Massachusetts, which voted to approve full legalization Election Day. Democratic State Sen. Joshua Miller and state Rep. Scott Slater said they are pushing the legislation in a bid to compete with Massachusetts, reports Reuters.

The pair of lawmakers fear residents will start making the short trip to Massachusetts to buy their weed if Rhode Island does not act, squandering a potentially huge stream of revenue from the state.

“Our constituents think it is time for lawmakers to pass this legislation, and we should listen to them,” Miller said in a statement. “If we fail to pass the bill this year, we will lose significant ground to Massachusetts.”

Lawmakers are significantly delaying the roll out of marijuana legalization in Massachusetts, barring commercial sale for an additional six months in order to construct a tax and regulatory framework for the drug. Lawmakers in Rhode Island acknowledge they could face similar hurdles on the path to legalization, which is why they are pressing for a change in law now.

Democrats control both houses in the state legislature and Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signaled openness to full legalization. A complete draft of the bill is not yet available, but it would place a 23 percent tax on marijuana and allow anyone over 21 to posses and grow the substance.

“We have had several years to see how regulation works in Colorado and Washington, and we have learned important lessons from their experiences,” Slater told the Marijuana Policy Project. “This legislation represents a sensible policy reform that has been shown to work successfully in other states.”

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