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November 15, 2012

RI, Maine lawmakers seek to legalize pot

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Recent campaigns that made Colorado and Washington the first states in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana are energizing efforts to do the same in New England, with lawmakers in Rhode Island and Maine vowing to push legislation next year to impose alcohol-style regulations and taxes on the drug.

Rhode Island Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, said yesterday that the passage of legalization referendums in the two Western states are the latest indication that American attitudes toward marijuana are softening.

She said the regulated sale of marijuana would eliminate the black market while raising a projected $10 million in revenue for government coffers. The state would also save some $20 million a year simply by no longer arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people for marijuana offenses.

“Our prohibition has failed,” she said. “I think legalizing and taxing it, just as we did to alcohol, is the way to do it.”

Maine Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said she also will propose legislation to legalize marijuana in her state, and estimated that sales taxes on its purchase there would raise $8 million.

Robert Capecchi of the Marijuana Policy Project said he expects other states to follow suit.

He said the successful efforts in Washington and Colorado may represent a “tipping point” for proposals long consigned to the political fringe.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now have medical marijuana programs, and 16 states, including Rhode Island, have rescinded criminal penalties for adults who possess small quantities of the drug.

Voters in Washington and Colorado approved ballot questions last week that will authorize adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

Both states are holding off on crafting regulations for its sale and taxation of marijuana while they await the response of the federal government, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug but has often turned a blind eye to state medical marijuana programs.

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