Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Former Police Officers Testify for Changes to Marijuana Laws in Rhode Island

Two Wednesday Hearings: One to Decriminalize Possession, One to Legalize and Tax Sales

PROVIDENCE, RI -- A former Providence police officer and a former undercover narcotics detective will testify today before Rhode Island House committees in favor of bills that would decriminalize and legalize marijuana. The bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales, HB 5591, will be heard by the House Finance Committee at 1:00 PM in Room 35 of the State House. The bill to decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, HB 5031 will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee at the rise of the House in Room 313.

Beth Comery, who served as a Providence police officer for six years, will be testifying for the bills. "The fact is, the current marijuana laws don't enhance public safety; they threaten it," she said. "F.B.I. statistics indicate that nationally, nearly four of ten murders, six of ten rapes and nine of ten burglaries go unsolved. The criminal justice system should be focusing its limited resources in these areas, rather than on the approximately 800,000 people that police arrest every year for marijuana offenses."

Comery is a speaker for the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an international group of police officers, judges, corrections officials, border agents and other criminal justice professionals who have witnessed the failures of the so-called "war on drugs" firsthand.

The decriminalization bill has 40 of the state's 75 representatives signed on as co-sponsors and, according to a Mason-Dixon poll, 64 percent of Rhode Islanders support decriminalizing marijuana possession. Last year, the Rhode Island Senate created a special commission to study the state’s marijuana laws. It recommended decriminalizing marijuana possession.

"Ceasing to arrest people for using small amounts of marijuana is a great step in the right direction. My home state of Massachusetts has been benefiting from such a change since 2008, when 65% of our voters passed an initiative to decriminalize marijuana," said Jack Cole, LEAP's board chairman, a retired state police lieutenant and undercover narcotics detective who is a resident of Medford, Massachusetts. "But unless and until we actually legalize and regulate marijuana sales, we'll continue to see violent gangs and cartels raking in tax-free revenue from the illegal market."

Rhode Island could bolster the state treasury by more than $48 million a year by ceasing to arrest people for marijuana and instead taxing and regulating its sales, according to Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron.

The full text of the bills being heard Wednesday and other information can be found at and

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens, federal agents and others who want to legalize and regulate drugs after fighting on the front lines of the "war on drugs" and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info at

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CONTACT: Tom Angell - (202) 557-4979 or

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