Following last year's successful effort to decriminalize marijuana in Rhode Island, advocates in the state legislature now have their eyes on the biggest prize in drug reform: marijuana legalization.

"Taxing and regulating the sale of marijuana will rob drug dealers of one of their reasons for being," state Senator Donna M. Nesselbush (D) said, according to The Valley Breeze newspaper in Rhode Island. "It will likely reduce crime, weaken gangs and cartels and allow our hard-working law enforcement officials to focus on serious and/or violent crime. Taxing and regulating would also create the potential for much-needed state revenue that could be used for treatment and education about the consequences of drug use and the promise of healthful living."

Nesselbush's partner on the bill is state Rep. Edith Ajello (D), who introduced H5274, better known as the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, earlier this month, earning the praise of the Marijuana Policy Project, one of the nation's leading drug reform advocacy groups.

"The bill would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana," the group explained in a statement. "It would also direct the department of revenue to license and regulate marijuana producers and retail marijuana stores. This sensible approach to marijuana would let law enforcement focus on more serious crimes."

The state is one of several that could potentially legalize marijuana following passage of historic voter-driven legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. A law signed by Gov. Lincon Chafee (R) in 2012, which takes effect on April 1, 2013, lowers penalties for adults caught with up to an ounce of marijuana to just a single $150 fine, similar to a traffic ticket. The new law will see about half of those revenues going into drug awareness and treatment programs for young people, according to The Providence Journal.

“It is time for Rhode Island to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition behind us and adopt a more sensible approach just as our nation did with alcohol 80 years ago,” Rep. Ajello said. “By keeping marijuana sales in the underground market, we are ensuring they will be uncontrolled and that those selling it are not asking for proof of age. Regulating marijuana like alcohol will take marijuana sales off the street and put them in the hands of legitimate businesses that would face real disincentives for selling to minors. These new businesses will also create jobs and generate much-needed new tax revenue.”


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