Senate Bill 420: How RI's Marijuana Legislation Got Its Number

Jun 21, 2017

Once again, Rhode Island lawmakers are considering bills to legalize recreational marijuana. One of those bills wound up with a number that will have special meaning for anyone familiar with pot-smoking subculture.

A bill introduced in the Senate would make it legal to possess and use small amounts of recreational pot. It doesn’t legalize the sale of marijuana, at least not until a commission takes a look at how the state might implement the program.

We couldn’t help but notice the bill number: 420.

If that number doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s an in-joke among smokers. 4:20 is considered an ideal time to light one up. April 20th has gained a cult status as a sort of national holiday among pot smokers. Essentially 420 is shorthand for marijuana.

Greg Pare, head of communications for the Rhode Island Senate, says senators have no say over how bills are numbered.

This bill was introduced in 2017, an odd year. To get the number 420, it would have to be the four-hundred-and-twentieth bill introduced this session. Pare chalks the numbering up to happenstance.

“Something for folks to contemplate while folks are listening to their Pink Floyd,” said Pare.

Senator Joshua Miller sponsored the legislation, which is timed to go into effect when Massachusetts is expected to begin selling recreational marijuana to the public.

Miller says that puts Rhode Island in a dilemma. Like other advocates for legalization, Miller says there’s little Rhode Island will be able to do to stop residents from purchasing recreational marijuana just over the border. He adds that the state could also miss out on millions in tax revenue.

As for the number, Miller says it wasn’t him.

“I had nothing to do with that, but there are staff that may have tracked and moved a couple of bills around,” said Miller. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.”

So Miller says the bill number was likely just a few numbers away from 420, someone noticed and moved a few bills up or down. And Miller agrees it’s a funny circumstance.

“I think there is a humor,” said Miller. “It’s interesting and people remember what bill we’re talking about so it’s helped in that way.”

But advocates for legalizing recreational marijuana aren’t really laughing.

“I would see the humor in it if there were more respect given to the voters in the state that want to move forward,” said Jared Moffat head of the advocacy group Regulate RI. “I mean if there was a vote on that I’d laugh if it passed. That’d be great.”

Moffat calls the bill a step in the right direction.

“We think the proposal puts us on the path towards legalization, but does it in a way that very slow, methodical and that’s what the legislators that we’ve talked to seem to want.”

But he’s not holding his breath for passage, at least not this year. The issue faces opposition from law enforcement and people working to reduce drug and alcohol addiction. And while 420 may be an auspicious number for pot smokers, it may not help the bill through the legislature this year.