As the Rhode Island General Assembly rushed to adjourn last Friday, the Senate approved a resolution introduced that same day to create a nine-member commission to study a broad range of issues around marijuana policy. The last-minute move comes just weeks after the legislature approved the creation of dispensaries for medical marijuana patients.
Under the move, which does not require any further approval, a "Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana" will be set up to issue a report by January 31, 2010. The commission will be composed of "elected members of the Rhode Island Senate, local law enforcement officials, physicians, nurses, social workers, academic leaders in the field of addiction studies, advocates or patients in the state's medical marijuana program, advocates working in the field of prisoner reentry, economists, and members of the general public."
Among the specific issues and questions the resolution mandates the commission to address are:
- The experience of individuals and families sentenced for violating marijuana laws.
- The experience of states and European countries, such as California, Massachusetts and the Netherlands, which have decriminalized the sale and use of marijuana.
- Whether and to what extent Rhode Island youth have access to marijuana despite current laws prohibiting its use.
- Whether adults' use of marijuana has decreased since marijuana became illegal in Rhode Island in 1918.
- Whether the current system of marijuana prohibition has created violence in the state of Rhode Island against users or among those who sell marijuana
- Whether the proceeds from the sales of marijuana are funding organized crime, including drug cartels.
- Whether those who sell marijuana on the criminal market may also sell other drugs, thus increasing the chances that youth will use other illegal substances.
- How much revenue the state could earn by taxing marijuana at $35 an ounce.
The sponsors of the resolution were Senators Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), Leo Blais (R-Coventry), Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), Charles Levesque (D-Portsmouth), and Susan Sosnowski (D-South Kingstown).
In a Wednesday interview with the Providence Journal, Miller said the move was sparked by "a national trend towards decriminalization" and the voter-driven decriminalization of marijuana in Massachusetts. He added that he waited until the sessions' end to introduce the resolution because it was "very important" for the study to stay separate from the issue of medical marijuana.
The marijuana policy commission is a done deal. But who will sit on it isn't. Rhode Island activists would behoove themselves to follow the selection process closely. Maybe they could even come up with some suggestions.