Rhode Island Bill Would Legalize Marijuana; Foundation to Nullify Federal Prohibition

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (May 24, 2018) – A bill filed in the Rhode Island Senate would legalize marijuana, setting the foundation to nullify federal cannabis prohibition in effect in the state.

Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) introduced Senate Bill 2985 (S2985) on May 16. The legislation would allow adults 21 or older to use, purchase or transport up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would be permitted to possess up to five ounces of marijuana in their homes. The bill would institute a 10 percent marijuana sales tax which would be levied in addition to the existing state sales tax.

Violating the rules and regulations for possession and distribution of marijuana would still be considered a criminal offense under the law. Local communities could regulate but not ban cultivation facilities and manufacturing centers under S2985. Marijuana processors, retailers and transporters would have to be licensed by the state.

“The general public consistently polls in Rhode Island and elsewhere very much in favor of this, over 60%. I think that legislators haven’t caught up with their constituents yet,” Sen. Miller said, according to a WPRO report.

Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as S2985 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.


Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the feds maintain complete prohibition of cannabis. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Legalization of marijuana in Rhode Island would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, Rhode Island essentially sweeps away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.


Medical marijuana is currently legal in Rhode Island. Passage of S2985 would further ignore federal prohibition and nullify it in practice in the state. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act.

With 30 states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.


S2985 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.

About Tenth Amendment Center
The Tenth Amendment Center is a national think tank that works to preserve and protect the principles of strictly limited government through information, education, and activism. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of state and individual sovereignty issues, focusing primarily on the decentralization of federal government power as required by the Constitution. For more information visit the Tenth Amendment Center Blog.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.