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Guest MINDSETTER™ Ford: No More Reefer Madness - Legalize Marijuana

Monday, February 13, 2017


It’s hard to believe we’re still debating whether adults should be allowed to use cannabis. No one questions our freedom to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with dinner. But the devil’s lettuce? Our government still says, “no way.” The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

As the head of the Libertarian Party of Rhode Island, cannabis legalization is an easy issue for me. Of course government shouldn’t be in the business of punishing adults who choose to consume cannabis. It’s impossible for me to understand how anyone who believes in personal liberty could support that.  

I admit the catchphrase “tax and regulate” doesn’t exactly fire me up. However, I recognize that it’s a useful way to highlight the absurdity of the prohibitionist system. While every other business owner in the state is forced to pay taxes and conform to (often burdensome) regulations, illegal dealers sell cannabis with no rules, no oversight, and no taxes. I concede that some regulations are needed — The cannabis sold on the street is often doctored, and unsafe.  And the tax can be thought of as a “user fee.” If you don’t use cannabis, you don’t pay the tax. It’s certainly better than the current situation in which we all pay for the enforcement of an unenforceable law. 

Cultural conservatives fret that legalizing cannabis “sends the wrong message” as if we should be taking cues on morality from the government. Some, like the enlightened editorial board at The Providence Journal, go even further and claim that cannabis use leads to the “general rot of society.” Sounds awfully close to Sen. Jeff Sessions’ statement that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” 

But guess what? Lots of people already use cannabis. Even so-called “good people” like doctors, police officers, and — gasp — politicians. The reality is that all kinds of people use cannabis for all sorts of reasons. Can we finally grow up and get past the antiquated “reefer madness” stereotypes, please?  

You see, the little secret that prohibitionists never want to admit is that our current policy isn’t stopping anyone from using cannabis if they want to, including our children.  Opponents act as though legalizing cannabis for adults would open up Pandora’s Box — but the box is already open. And no one, repeat, no one, is suggesting that we legalize a child’s use of any controlled substance. 

According to government statistics, about 1 in 5 adults in Rhode Island used cannabis last year. When visiting the US in the early 20th century, Einstein commented on alcohol Prohibition: “"The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.”

This critique applies equally well to cannabis prohibition. It’s laughable that the government is attempting putting 20 percent of the adult population on the wrong side of the law because they consume cannabis. 

And lastly, it’s worth emphasizing how senseless it would be for Rhode Island to delay passing legalization while Massachusetts goes about setting up their legal cannabis market. It’s like handing them jobs and tax revenue on a silver platter. The Rhode Island and Massachusetts economies are bound up together, and plenty of people already cross the border to buy all sorts of things. Failing to set up a legal cannabis market here would effectively result in a tremendous transfer of wealth from the Ocean State to the Bay State.  

Make no mistake — cannabis legalization is not “inevitable.” Our lawmakers are not going to see the light on their own. They need to know that their constituents think it’s silly to punish people who use cannabis while alcohol is completely legal. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get involved and help ensure Rhode Island leaves the days of “reefer madness” behind.



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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