Rhode Island may make history in 2015 by becoming the first state to legalize recreational marijuana—not by ballot measure or a vote of citizens, but by legislative action. The smallest state has been at the forefront of reform since becoming the first to pass a medical marijuana bill by legislative vote in 2006, and it looks ready to repeat this process for recreational in 2015.
Until now, the nation’s marijuana reform has been largely decided at the polls, with Colorado and Washington voters being the first to legalize in 2012 and Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. following suit in 2014. Usually state legislatures only enact marijuana reform in the opposite direction—like when Montana voted to severely restrict its medical marijuana program last year despite the initiative’s passing by 62% eight years earlier.
Rhode Island has the highest percentage of citizens who have used marijuana in the past month—14.08% compared to just 12.70% in Colorado, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Also, 20.22% of Rhode Islanders say they’ve used marijuana within the past year, compared to 18.92% of Coloradans. With current laws being what they are, this means that Rhode Islanders are smoking a good amount of black market weed—weed that could be taxed and provide much needed funding to the state government for public projects and affairs.
“The numbers show that marijuana prohibition clearly isn’t working in our state, and unfortunately many Rhode Islanders are buying marijuana from illegal dealers off the street,” Jared Moffat, director of Regulate Rhode Island, told Marijuana.com. “Instead, we should be regulating and taxing marijuana, which would create new jobs and make our communities safer.”
Somewhat surprisingly, marijuana is not a partisan issue in Rhode Island. Last year’s legalization bill had multiple Republican cosponsors, and previous marijuana-related votes have passed with strong bipartisan support.
“I don’t want to see the whole state getting stoned, but there’s no reason to not allow it,” said Rob Paquin, chair of the Rhode Island Republican Party. “For the Joe Schmo who wants to use it recreationally, go ahead. Pay the 7% tax and give the money to the state.”
I don’t know about you, but I like this guy.
“From the Republican chair, I can tell you the tide is changing,” he continued, “and Rhode Island would be wise in my personal opinion to be ahead of the curve rather than behind it when it comes to marijuana.”