At this point, those jitters seem likely to delay consideration of the measure another year, no matter how much supporters argue that the bill — with its broad public support — is uncontroversial.

But if McCaffrey winds up supporting the proposal in the next year or two, giving it some legs in the Senate chamber, it is not too much of a stretch to imagine the leadership in both houses getting behind it.

And while the Catholic Church was able to exploit the General Assembly's socially conservative bent to derail gay marriage last year, no comparable opposition has emerged around decriminalization.

If the bill does eventually pass, the next and final prize will inevitably come into view: full legalization and regulation of marijuana.

Sound outlandish? Perhaps it is. Voters in Colorado and Washington will cast ballots on legalization this fall. But there is one crucial difference between Rhode Island and those two states.

There, advocates can gather signatures to put a measure on the ballot. Here, the legislature has to approve any questions that go before the voters. And it's hard to see Senator McCaffrey going along with that.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at dscharfenberg@phx.com.

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