Guest MINDSETTERS™ Sen. Miller & Rep. Slater: RI Should Regulate Marijuana

Friday, December 16, 2016


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The dominos of marijuana prohibition are falling in New England, and the time is ripe for us to act in Rhode Island. We should enact legislation to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use in the upcoming legislative session, not simply because Massachusetts and Maine voters approved similar laws, but because it will make Rhode Island a healthier, safer and more vibrant place to live. 

We must recognize that Rhode Island’s current policy — which keeps non-medical marijuana sales in the illicit market — is costly, ineffective, and harmful. Over the past several decades, we have wasted precious law enforcement resources and have punished thousands of Rhode Islanders — disproportionately people of color — for using marijuana. And yet, the illicit marijuana market remains rooted in place. We need a smarter approach. 

Proposed Legislation 

We recognize that there are many important questions and concerns about creating a legal market for adult marijuana use. That is why we have thoroughly studied this issue over the past several years and sought to integrate the lessons learned from other states into our legislation. Additionally, with input from medical professionals, local law enforcement officials and community leaders, we have crafted a proposal tailored to the unique needs of Rhode Island. Our primary goal has been to find common ground for stakeholders on all sides of this issue. 

For example, under our proposed legislation edible marijuana products will only be permitted for sale after they have been reviewed and approved by a marijuana product review board comprised of public health experts. 

Driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal, and a portion of tax revenue raised from marijuana will be made available to train more of our police officers to recognize impaired drivers. Packaging, labeling and advertising of marijuana products will be tightly restricted to minimize access and exposure to young people. 

Local municipalities will be given significant control over where and how marijuana establishments operate in their city or town. Our legislation will allow local citizens, by a simple majority vote, to ban marijuana establishments from their municipality altogether. 

Next Year is the Time

Next year is the ideal time for Rhode Island to move forward. As our state continues to see a slower economic recovery than our neighbors, we cannot ignore the job-creating benefits of gaining a foothold in an emerging market. Moreover, adopting legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in 2017 will allow us to put additional tax revenue to good use sooner. Delaying passage will only make budget decisions more difficult in coming years and give us less flexibility to pursue important initiatives like rebuilding our schools, rolling back taxes that harm working families, and providing more substance abuse treatment services. 

To be clear, new jobs and tax revenue are not our primary motivations. Improving public health and safety by replacing an illicit market with a responsibly regulated legal market is our goal. In a regulated market, consumers know what they are getting and do not have to worry about dangerous pesticide levels or laced products. Workers in a regulated marijuana economy are not vulnerable to exploitation and have protections like social security and unemployment insurance. Communities also benefit from sales being moved from the streets into a regulated market made up of legitimate tax-paying businesses — not gangs and cartels.

There is broad consensus that Rhode Island should take this step forward. Polls show that a majority of Rhode Islanders supports regulating marijuana for adult use. We can and should act in 2017 to realize these health and safety benefits and to ensure we do not lose millions of dollars in annual tax revenue and hundreds of jobs to our neighboring states. 

Although we believe we have drafted a thoughtful proposal, the process of discussion and debate in the upcoming legislative session will be crucial to refining and strengthening the bill. We wholeheartedly agree with Governor Raimondo that it is important to get this right, and we are confident we can do so in 2017. We look forward to discussing this important issue with constituents, the governor’s office and our colleagues in the General Assembly in the coming months.


State Senator Josh Miller, District 28 (Cranston, Providence)

State Representative Scott Slater, District 10 (Providence)


See the Slideshow Below for Who Supports and Opposes Marijuana


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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