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Editorial: Rethinking marijuana restrictions

On Feb. 12, Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston and Providence, and Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, introduced a bill that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older. If the bill is passed, Rhode Island will become the third state to legalize marijuana in the United States and will continue on its trajectory of increasingly progressive drug policy, following landmark legislation like marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana legalization and the Good Samaritan Law, which eliminates legal disincentives to call emergency services in the event of a drug overdose.

We firmly believe it is time for Rhode Island to legalize marijuana. First and perhaps most important, Rhode Island constituents already support the measure. Fifty-three percent of Rhode Island residents support marijuana legalization, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 is especially open to the idea after noting the fiscal benefits of the tax-and-regulate model adopted in Colorado. This brings us to a further point — namely, that legalizing marijuana would bring a new revenue stream into Rhode Island, a state that could certainly use a fiscal boost, perhaps more than any other at the moment. Chafee is already calling for revenue to go toward infrastructure spending, or, as he aptly puts it, “pot for potholes.” We are heartened by Chafee’s goals, but would like to add that marijuana legalization can also create business opportunities for citizens like Rhode Island Girl Scouts, whose current popular location outside the Brown Bookstore would likely yield greater profits outside a marijuana dispensary, or for businesses that make or sell smoking apparatuses, which would likely enjoy a far wider market for their products.

We fundamentally support marijuana legalization not only for its potential fiscal benefits but for practical and moral reasons. It is startlingly clear that marijuana prohibition is a failed policy. Prohibition has failed to significantly curb drug use, but has certainly been a drain on public funding for a fat criminal justice system and has distracted police officers from addressing violent crime. Even decriminalization, which might be labeled “soft” prohibition, fails to address the fundamental dangers associated with a black market. Unlike legalization, decriminalization allows for the continuation of a black market and drug control by gangs. We also cannot ignore that while studies offer various findings on the negative health impacts of marijuana, taxed and regulated substances like tobacco and alcohol have resulted in staggering numbers of deaths, unlike marijuana, for which there are no reported overdose-related deaths.

Furthermore, legalization would quite likely do a better job of keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, an oft-cited policy goal of concerned citizens, given that high school students report it is easier to obtain marijuana than to obtain beer or cigarettes. We cannot claim a definite causal relationship, but while a black market does not have checks in place to keep drugs out of the hands of minors, a regulatory market to a large extent does. Beyond these practical considerations, we believe the legalization of marijuana in Rhode Island would be an integral step to the larger project of rethinking the War on Drugs, which is a whopping policy failure that disproportionately targets minorities.

The aforementioned arguments in favor of marijuana legalization are all important to keep in mind, but our final point hits closest to home. We can and must do better. Legalizing marijuana is a small step in the right direction to reforming our bloated prison system that penalizes particularly vulnerable members of society. This isn’t a panacea, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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