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Guest MINDSETTER™ DeNuccio: RI Should Reject Marijuana Legalization

Tuesday, March 08, 2016


I often tell my husband that I wish I had gotten into a social issue that was a little more black and white, than substance abuse prevention. What pretty clear to me is not so clear to others. The question of marijuana becoming a legal, recreational drug is once again being considered in Rhode Island. I am concerned about the future of Rhode Island and therefore wary of marijuana being more available in our beautiful ocean state.  

Consider our RI’s picturesque Main Streets:  I like the look and feel of Brown Street in Wickford and Hope Street in Bristol. Imagine marijuana coffee shops, marijuana paraphernalia shops, cannabis dispensaries or marijuana smoking bars cropping up on those streets. If marijuana becomes legal for recreational use, that would be what would happen. Legal ensures retail access.  It is naïve to think that those commercial establishments would just be on Broad Street in Providence. Right now in Colorado local newspaper advertisements are filled with pot promotions- including appliance repair services that comes with a bag of weed!  Smokeable weed is just one aspect: There are “Pot Tarts,” “Ganja gummy bears,” “Canna Punch,” and any other candy that you are familiar with now available laced with marijuana.  Oh, you say, that it is only for individuals over 21!  - but the reality is that kids are getting ahold of these products.  Emergency room visits are up in Colorado and Washington where these products are available commercially.  Pets and kids are consuming marijuana-infused candies and cookies. The lunch ladies and school administrators can’t tell the difference between pot brownies and granny’s brownies.  We have already had a hospital transports from schools in RI as a result of youth eating these types of products. Do we want to see more of that?  Not me.  

Proponents say that “regulation” of marijuana will make the streets safer and prevent the alleyway sales of marijuana. I don’t believe it. The black market is alive and well in Colorado and Washington.  Commercial availability has not slowed the illegal market. The dealers continue to grow weed in their apartments and homes because growing weed is easy – way easier than manufacturing alcohol.  They continue to sell to whomever doesn’t want to pay the highly taxed marijuana prices. 

Marijuana is a drug.  Marijuana use hijacks the teen brain.  The frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls important cognitive skills such as emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behavior, is not fully formed until about 24 or 25 in women and 27-28 in men.  Research shows that introducing marijuana to the teenage brain has negative effects.  Academic pursuits become less meaningful as marijuana becomes more valued.  Acutely, marijuana decreases attention and concentration, decreases memory and information processing and decreases decision response speed.  Through longer term exposure, marijuana impairs planning, organizing and problem solving.  There are deficits to allocation of attentional resources, filtering out of irrelevant material and loss in the retrieval and immediate verbal memory. Studies indicate at least an 8-point drop in IQ after long term marijuana use.  

 Think that legalizing marijuana keeps it out of the hands of youth in Colorado?  Wrong!  According to the most widely respected survey on youth drug use, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Colorado youth between the ages of 12-25 are number one in the country for marijuana use rates.  In 2016, 11.6% of Colorado youth between the ages of 12-17 were considered marijuana users compared to 7.15% nationally.  Drug related suspensions and expulsions increased 40% between 2009 and 2014.  One study from Denver indicates an increase of 8th graders marijuana use of 350%.  What will Rhode Island do to prevent this from happening to our kids?

RI’s high schools are under pressure to produce students that are ready to compete in a global society. There are daily reports in local media about testing and performance in our schools.  Marijuana use already affects this issue. By normalizing its use by creating an atmosphere where marijuana is legal- our educational institutions will be negatively impacted.  Teen marijuana use is linked to school dropout, other drug use, and mental health problems. That is not the prognosis that I want for RI youth. RI’s future depends on our youth being competitive and employable.  

The short term benefit of increased tax revenue is not worth the risk to our kids and to the economic future of RI.  Already, Electric Boat is on record for having enormous problems securing employable workers because they can’t pass the drug tests.  What will that situation look like in a few years, if we legalize this drug?  Just because alcohol is a legal drug doesn’t mean that you can show up for work impaired – the same is true for marijuana use. In this case, since marijuana is illegal under federal law, its use will block someone from passing an employment drug test.  

So let’s continue with the supposed economic benefit to our financially struggling state: Will it be $40 million in revenue or is it $50 million?  Whatever it is, will it offset the social costs that will accompany legalizing marijuana?  Marijuana is often compared to alcohol.  Alcohol is legal for those over 21 and highly regulated and yet in 2010 the cost of underage drinking in Rhode Island (medical costs, legal costs, addiction treatment etc.) was $210 million.  Those are costs to moms and dads, it’s not money coming from the state’s general fund!  

Thinking about road safety: Reports from Colorado point to increased impaired driving consequences since legalization. In one year they saw a 32% increase in MARIJUANA-RELATED TRAFFIC DEATHS, after legalization. In the year following legalization in Washington, there was a 50% increase in reported drugged driving incidences.

Culturally it has taken decades to stigmatize drunk driving; while being high on marijuana is considered funny in our society.  Will we go through decades before we stigmatize driving while high?  There is currently no widely accepted valid test for law enforcement to administer to determine someone’s level of marijuana intoxication and we are woefully short of drug recognition experts in our law enforcement community.  What are the plans to protect the RI roadways?

Lastly, recent research shows a connection between marijuana and opioids. We have an opioid epidemic going on and if you ask someone with an addiction to heroin if they started with marijuana, my guess is they are going to say, “Yes.”  Will every marijuana user go on to use heroin, probably not, but I don’t want RI kids taking that risk. Bottom line is this, legalizing marijuana for Rhode Island is just not a good idea.  


Related Slideshow: Who Supports, Opposes Marijuana Legalization in RI in 2016

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Jared Moffat with RegulateRI pointed to Colorado’s regulated marijuana system generating more than $135 million in revenue in 2015 -- as well as potential competition from Massachusetts if they legalize marijuana first -- as reasons for Rhode Island lawmakers to act on the legislation this year. 

“Vermont and Massachusetts, we should be well aware of the fact that they're moving seriously towards legalization,” said Moffat. “We've had the debate for five years now -- and it's coming. The question is now do we want to get ahead of the curve. Our hope is that now that tolls vote happened, that this will be the next thing that fills the void."

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Rhode Island Medical Society

"Legislatively, we have nine point policy on drugs, and the last one is we don't support legalization.  It's not specific to marijuana, but it's the closest the [American Medical Association] comes to policy," said Steve DeToy, RIMS Director of Public Affairs.

"We support medical marijuana. Taxing the patient isn't something we'd support, but if it's for regulating an unregulated supply system, we support that," said DeToy. "Rhode Island has two types of suppliers, one is the compassion centers that have had strict oversight, and the other is the caregivers' side which hasn't had the same level of protections and oversight at this time."

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NAACP Providence Branch

NAACP Providence Branch President Jim Vincent serves on the RegulateRI coalition -- and offered the following:

"The New England Area Conference [of the NAACP] voted in favor of the legislation.  It continues to be an issue that tears apart our community, this war on drugs. It's a key factor why our community is suffering, when we can be keeping people out of jail for something that can be regulated," said Vincent. 

"Legalization is many issues -- it's social justice. for others its medicinal, they for others its a tax raising issue," said Vincent. "I'm staying on the social justice."

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RI Taxpayers

"Marijuana will be the next great debate.  With leadership unwilling to address their broken culture of inefficiency and questionable ethics, they will look to any source for future funds that will not impact the current culture," said RI Taxpayers' Larry Girouard. "Tolls, pot, gambling and other initiatives do not require leadership to change anything. They just tap new funding sources."
"When you have the most hostile business climate in the continental US, one would think there would be ample examples of things leadership might initiate to improve our business climate. Of course this would mean that leadership would need to make a few unpopular decisions, something that they seem unwilling to do. Name one thing that leadership has done over the last 5 years that demonstrates that they are really serious about changing Rhode Island’s abysmal anti-business brand. It is easier to create new sources of income, like tolls," said Larry Girouard.

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Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity

"Our statement is we're not 'pro' or con until we do more research," said Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse. "Our question is, if it's a lot like alcohol, and supporters say why don't we just tax it like that, then do we think more 'alcohol' for young Rhode Islanders is a good or bad thing?"

"When government in its voracious appetite for new revenue considers legislation that could arguably provide great societal or individual harm, you have to consider the pros and cons," said Stenhouse. "We'd have to look at Colorado and other states for the impact there."

"As for [taxing] medical marijuana, if we're taxing it simply as a revenue source, it's government out of control," said Stenhouse. "And if we try and overregulate, we know there's a huge black market for cigarettes already in Rhode Island."

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RI Progressive Democrats

"We support a legalize, tax, and regulate approach," said Sam Bell with the RI Progressive Democrats."

As for the Governor's proposal to tax medical marijuana caregivers and patients?

"We have not taken a formal position, but I would imaging the majority of our group would be opposed," said Bell. 

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RI Libertarian Party

"Continuing to waste resources on enforcing the prohibition on the consumption of marijuana, the moral equivalent of a good bourbon, is like flushing taxpayer dollars down the drain," said Pat Ford, Chairman of the RI Libertarian Party. "If adults want to use marijuana in the privacy of their home, why shouldn't they be allowed to do so without fear of prosecution?"  

"The War on Drugs is a consummate failure that has crossed our nation billions of dollars through the combined cost of interdiction and incarceration, exacerbated racial tensions, inspired a narco terrorist fueled refugee crisis and been the root cause underlying several public health crises," said Ford. "Waisted lives and wasted resources will be its sole legacy. The legalization of cannabis can begin to bring this madness to an end."


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