R.I. lawmakers to weigh legislation to legalize pot

Providence (AP) - State lawmakers this week will review legislation to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and other proposals that would crack down on some lesser-known substances.

The legalization bill would allow those 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and would impose alcohol-style regulations and taxes on the sale of the drug.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, argues that society's views on recreational marijuana use are changing and that prohibition has failed to keep the drug out of the hands of minors.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

By contrast, the other drug-related bills getting a look this week would add more drugs to the list of those prohibited in Rhode Island. One would outlaw the hallucinogenic drugs salvia divinorum and jimson weed.

Another would expand an existing ban on synthetic marijuana and designer drugs sold as "bath salts" to prevent new chemical formulations from circumventing the law.

State Rep. Arthur Corvese is a sponsor of both bills to expand the list of prohibited drugs. Corvese said lawmakers need to ensure state drug laws keep pace with the harmful substances being abused by today's teens.

A recent federal report found 16 cases in which people who smoked synthetic marijuana were hospitalized with kidney problems. One was in Rhode Island.

"The attorney general supports this and the state police supports this," said Corvese, D-North Providence. "You have young people buying these over the counter and there have been problems."

Corvese opposes the bill to legalize marijuana.

The proposed changes come as the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries prepare to open this spring and police get ready for a new law that will replace criminal penalties for minor pot possession with civil fines. That law goes into effect April 1.


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