Colorado is making huge national headlines with its successful rollout of marijuana legalization, but one tiny state — the smallest in the country — has an ever higher marijuana use rate.
The federally-funded National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that Rhode Island has the highest percentage of people who used marijuana in the last month — 14.08 percent. Colorado is second with 12.70 percent of residents saying they’ve used cannabis in the past 30 days.
About one out of five Rhode Islanders — 20.22 percent — say they’ve used marijuana within the past year, compared with 18.92 percent of Coloradans.
The results seem to undercut legalization opponents’ claim that prohibition must be maintained in order to prevent marijuana use from skyrocketing.
“The numbers show that marijuana prohibition clearly isn’t working in our state, and unfortunately many Rhode Islanders are buying marijuana from illegal dealers off the street,” Jared Moffat, director of the pro-legalization group Regulate Rhode Island, told Marijuana.com in an interview. “Instead, we should be regulating and taxing marijuana, which would create new jobs and make our communities safer.”
Rhode Island is viewed by many legalization advocates as likely to be the first state to end prohibition via an act of the legislature as opposed to by a ballot initiative. The state doesn’t allow citizen initiatives, unlike Colorado and the other three states that have voted to legalize within the past two election cycles.
During the 2014 legislative session, a legalization proposal garnered 13 cosponsors in the state’s 38-member Senate and 29 cosponsors in the 75-member House of Representatives.
While Rhode Island is largely a Democratic state, marijuana is not a partisan issue there.
“I don’t want to see the whole state getting stoned, but there’s no reason to not allow it,” said Rob Paquin, chair of the Rhode Island Republican Party, in a recent interview. “For the Joe Schmo who wants to use it recreationally, go ahead. Pay the seven percent tax and give the money to the state.”
Last year’s legalization bill had several Republican cosponsors, including the House minority leader. Previously, the state legislature decriminalized marijuana possession and enacted a comprehensive medical marijuana program with strong bipartisan votes.
“From the Republican chair I can tell you the tide is changing and Rhode Island would be wise — my personal opinion — to be ahead of the curve rather than behind on it when it comes to marijuana,” said Paquin.
It is expected that a new bill will be introduced next month for the new legislative session.
Advocates are “committed to making 2015 the year that Rhode Island begins treating marijuana like alcohol,” Moffat said.
Nationally, the federal survey shows that 7.40 percent of Americans say they’ve used marijuana within the past month, and 12.34 percent have indulged within the past year.
Beyond marijuana, Rhode Island also has the highest use rate for illegal drugs in general, with 15.76 percent of residents having gotten high illicitly in the past month.
The survey tracks use by Americans age 12 and older and relies on self-report data, meaning that actual usage rates could be higher due to the fact that many people may be reluctant to confess illegal drug use when asked by researchers from the federal government.