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Rhode Island Bill To Criminalize Marijuana Use In Groups Of Three Or More People Is Being Rewritten, Sponsor Says



A controversial bill filed in Rhode Island earlier this month would make it illegal to have cannabis at gatherings of three or more people has been withdrawn and is being reworked, its sponsor says. Hosting essentially any social event where marijuana is used or possessed would carry a fine of $500 to $1,000 under the proposal as introduced.

If enacted, the measure would severely limit adults’ ability to use cannabis under Rhode Island’s legalization law, passed by state lawmakers last year, by requiring hosts of more than two other people to take “all reasonable steps” to prohibit the use or possession of “any marijuana or other controlled substances” by anyone at the gathering.

The restriction would be the first of its kind in a state with legal cannabis.

The bill, S 125, was introduced on February 1 by six Senate Democrats but withdrawn from consideration two days later. Reached by email this week, lead sponsor Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. told Marijuana Moment the measure is currently being revised.

“The legislation has been withdrawn for more editing, rewrite,” he said in an email.

Felag did not indicate how the revised bill might differ from the original, nor did he answer questions from Marijuana Moment about the rationale behind the bill in a state where cannabis is now legal for adults over 21.

The bill’s other cosponsors—Sens. Leonidas P. Raptakis, David P. Tikoian, Frank A. Ciccone III, Louis P. DiPalma and V. Susan Sosnowski—did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment.

Rhode Island-licensed hemp producer Lovewell Farms sounded an alarm late last week about the legislation, warning on social media that penalties could fall disproportionately on Black people. The company cited a 2014 ACLU of Rhode Island report that found that police departments in the state arrested Black people at rates up to 9.14 times higher than other races.

“What would implementation of this law look like?” Lovewell tweeted. “Probably disproportionate fines for people of color.”

Rhode Island’s newly legal cannabis industry launched sales in December, with five retailers initially opening to adults. The state Supreme Court also recently issued guidance on how to proceed with expunging marijuana records under the new legalization law.

The governor also signed a historic bill in 2021 to allow safe consumption sites, where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. It’s not clear whether or how S 125 would affect that policy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in 2021 on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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