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Legalized Marijuana in Jeopardy with Mattiello as Speaker

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

 

Nicholas Mattiello's dream of being Speaker of the House could be a nightmare for Rhode Island's marijuana legalization proponents. One of those proponents is Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence. Ajello, along with Josh Miller, D-Cranston, introduced a bill which calls for the legalization of marijuana to be regulated and taxed like liquor sales.

“Mattiello did not sign it, though I invited him to sign it before I put it in,” Ajello said.

“Nevertheless, he was not an early supporter of marriage equality and he came to his senses on that … or we came to a common way of thinking. I shouldn’t say ‘he came to his senses.’”

Ajello said Mattiello could be persuaded to consider legalizing marijuana for its revenue benefits and job creation – Mattiello has been clear that his most important issues are jobs and the economy. However, she was quick to point out that legalizing and regulating marijuana is important to her for social and safety reasons first.

“I have not discussed that [economic benefits] with him, but it is certainly an issue I would raise. I want to be clear: The revenue is not my first reason for supporting this. My first reason is to get something that is so commonly used, evidently, out of the underground. To end the prohibition because it has not worked.”

Using Colorado's example

Local interest in legalized marijuana was propelled recently by reports of Colorado’s multi-million dollar revenue from recreational marijuana sales. Rhode Island’s proposed bill would make Governor Lincoln Chafee the first governor in America to legalize marijuana without putting the decision to the voters. After attending a meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., Chafee discussed the possibility of "pot for potholes" – using marijuana sales revenue for infrastructure improvement – by passing a bill approved by state lawmakers.

If there’s a selling point for Mattiello to get behind this bill, experts say it’s the revenue.

“The Speaker change may have big impact on the proposed marijuana bill. Mattiello has indicated he wants to focus more on economic than social issues so marijuana may not be on the fast track. He may prefer to move legislation that more directly links to business development. The only exception to this would be if the new Speaker sees the revenues that would come in through legalization as a way to fund economic development activities,” said Darrel West of the Brookings Institution.

“He likely would assess this bill strictly from an economic standpoint. If it is something he believes would create jobs and boost state revenues, he might go for it. But if it doesn’t boost the economy, he probably wouldn’t have much interest in it.”

Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello

Not purely a financial issue

The debate isn’t purely financial. Like casinos, legalized marijuana comes with a stigma.

“Although some believe the passage of the bill could generate substantial revenue for the state and will definitely reduce the incarceration rate of those caught with the drug, many community leaders still feel the social issues surrounding the use and availability of marijuana are not worth any dollars generated in taxes,” said Dr. Edward M. Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration at The University of Rhode Island.

“With the change in leadership in the House, and the selection of Mattiello as leader, the proposed legislation to legalize marijuana will slow down because there is a growing opposition to the bill due to the many legal and social questions still unanswered.”

Legalization is likely, eventually

Mazze believes Rhode Island will eventually legalize marijuana. Other states may do it first, but the train is on the tracks. For better or worse, according to Mazze.

“The legalization of marijuana in Rhode Island will become a done deal. Like many other social issues, it will be difficult going up Smith Hill backwards when other states have made this decision or are getting ready to do it. The new leadership needs to move away from social issues and focus on job creation, economic development, bringing ethics back to government and getting rid of the stumbling blocks that make doing business in Rhode Island a nightmare.”

Gary Sasse, director of the Bryant Institute for Public Leadership and GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™, is known to many in Rhode Island as an economy expert. His opinions on legalizing marijuana are passionate, however, and dire. He has called the movement shortsighted and irresponsible.

“I believe that a consensus has emerged that the state should take a wait and see approach.

I do not know what the new Speaker's position is on legalization, but I do not think it has much chance of passing this session regardless of who sits in the Speaker's chair,” Sasse said.

“If the Speaker appoints a new Judiciary Committee this could also affect the chances of the bill being seriously debated.”

Rep. Edith Ajello

Legislators may need new plan to pass legalization

If it’s true that Mattiello’s new role will slow down the momentum for legalized marijuana, proponents outside of the State House may have to formulate a new plan. Their message, however, remains the same.

“Our take on it is leadership may change but the fact is that a clear majority of Rhode Islanders support ending marijuana prohibition. They support a more controlled system to make our communities safer, to bring in a lot of jobs and economic activity for the state,” said Jared Moffat, Director of Regulate Rhode Island.

Regulate Rhode Island is a coalition of citizens who believe that marijuana prohibition wastes public resources, discriminates against communities of color, and undermines public health and safety.

“Mattiello said his priority would be jobs and the economy. Rhode Islanders are ready for this. If he wants to create jobs this is a sensible way to do that.”

Any state with plans to legalize marijuana will draw national attention. In Rhode Island’s case, there’s a hometown element to that national attention. Tom Angell, chairman of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, is a Rhode Island native. He graduated from URI in 2004.

“I checked with some connected lobbyists in Providence and the general consensus seems to be that it's just too early to tell how the leadership change will affect the prospects for marijuana legalization legislation,” he said.

“I can't reveal my lobbyist sources. That said, I can tell you that I remain optimistic that Rhode Island is likely to be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process as opposed to via ballot initiative. The legalization proposal enjoys broad bipartisan support from the membership in the General Assembly and I don't expect a change in leadership to change that fact.”

 

Related Slideshow: Potential Revenue From Legalized Pot in NE States

Using Colorado as an example, GoLocal analyzed how much potential revenue each New England state could make--and how impactful that would be to the state budgets--by following the same path.

In Colorado, recreational marijuana sales are taxed through a 12.9 percent sales tax alond with a 15 percent excise tax.

Prev Next

Massachusetts

Potential Annual Tax Revenue: $30.74 Million

State Population: 6.646 Million (2012)

FY 2014 State Budget: $34 Billion

Revenue as % of Budget: 0.1%

Prev Next

Connecticut

Potential Annual Tax Revenue: $16.61 Million

State Population: 3.590 Million (2012)

FY 2014 State Budget: $18.8 Billion ($37.6 Billion Biennial Budget for 2014-15)

Revenue as % of Budget: 0.1%

Prev Next

Maine

Potential Annual Tax Revenue: $6.15 Million

State Population: 1.329 Million (2012)

FY 2014 State Budget: $3.15 Billion ($6.3 Billion Biennial Budget for 2014-15)

Revenue as % of Budget: 0.2%

Prev Next

New Hampshire

Potential Annual Tax Revenue: $6.11 Million

State Population: 1.321 Million (2012)

FY 2014 State Budget: $5.35 Billion ($10.7 Billion Biennial Budget for 2014-15)

Revenue as % of Budget: 0.1%

Prev Next

Rhode Island

Potential Annual Tax Revenue: $4.86 Million

State Population: 1.050 Million (2012)

FY 2014 State Budget: $8.2 Billion

Revenue as % of Budget: 0.05%

Prev Next

Vermont

Potential Annual Tax Revenue: $2.90 Million

State Population: 626,011

FY 2014 State Budget: $2.22 Billion

Revenue as % of Budget: 0.1%

 
 

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Comments:

Good. Park in any run-down neighborhood in Providence and you'll smell it everywhere, anyhow. Advertisements for "grow shops" are flooding the airwaves. It is all very annoying to someone who has repeatedly seen how smoking pot kills brain cells and leads to other drug use. It won't do poor people, teenagers or college students any good to have another taxed vice that the government tacitly supports.

Marijuana should be decriminalized and non-medical users should be fined as for parking violations. If we need revenue, we can make it off of the penalties rather than taxes. We don't want to become the next Amsterdam with dope tourists flooding our streets and even more smoke shops lining Federal Hill. Let's get real about what we want our state to become. Just because people already do it, doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Comment #1 by Karl Treen on 2014 03 26

Maybe having it available and regulated would also clean up some of these run down neighborhoods. Being a small state, we also have the opportunity of pulling in an equal amount of money from Massachusetts and Connecticut, so we can get money from outside the state to help fix our own infrastructure.

Comment #2 by Phil Paulson on 2014 03 26

No new income. The underground, illegal sales will prosper with lower costs, more potent drug and the avoidance of the tax.

Comment #3 by Roy D on 2014 03 26

Legalize it now. The 'war on drugs' has COMPLETELY failed, jailing folks for non-violent possession charges, ruining lives with needless criminal records, making the cartels more violent, clogging courts with needless charges, increasing policing & prison costs, etc, etc, etc.

I keep asking on these blogs for someone to give me ONE reason why the 'war on drugs' is working, but no one ever replies with a legitimate response. C'mon, someone give me one reason why we should continue the 'war'.

Comment #4 by Dave Johnson on 2014 03 26

mattiello will listen to all sides but in the end, there is no way this is going to fly on his watch.

the progressives will be heard but their agenda is on the back burner. thankfully.

and this at least gives the state a shot at economic recovery.

Comment #5 by john paycheck on 2014 03 26

Oh please let's legalize pot. I can't wait to ride in a RIPTA bus with a pot smoking driver. or in a taxi. And how about driving on 95 with all those pot heads driving around? I'm so excited about that new adventure. Oh and the next time I fly in a plane. Can't wait. I can see a new organization forming MADD Mothers Against Driving Drugged.

Comment #6 by Joyce Bryant on 2014 03 26

Joyce B - I've got some astonishing news for you, pot is ALREADY easily available. Any of those irresponsible folks you mention are ALREADY stoned. And yes, I agree that if someone is endangering others with ANY sort of irresponsible behavior, then there is a price to pay. But your "reefer madness" paranoia about legalizing pot isn't going to materialize - no way.

Comment #7 by Dave Johnson on 2014 03 26

These are all old, old arguments with no end in sight. Try this: how powerful is this office that HE -- the Speaker of the House -- is the one to decide the question (or not)? If he's that powerful, why not do away with the office of governor and save a few bucks? We have one of the earliest state constitutions in the country but it's not the best by a long shot!!

Comment #8 by A Clarke on 2014 03 26

@Joyce B. - Don't forget about the Pot Cookies and the Pot Pizza. Just what our kids need.

Comment #9 by Roy D on 2014 03 26

Super. Roads will be a bit safer.

Comment #10 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 03 26

If only there were states that had legalized pot so we could weigh the pros and cons. OH, that's right there is. In two years we will be able to look at the two states that legalized pot and make a more informed choice.

Full disclosure; long POT

Comment #11 by Redd Ratt on 2014 03 26

In the end, the oodles of new revenue, and the huge number of unionized state employees "needed" to run the whole marijuana industry, will make it happen.

Comment #12 by David Beagle on 2014 03 26

Seeing that I just finished my coffee since returning home from my area of employment (on Federal Hill) I have caffeine and sugar in my body, both of which will continue to result in thousands of deaths among Americans. If I were to become intolerant of the Green Rush please refer to me as a Rhode Islander, blinded by my ignorance, speaking to you all in true hypocritical fashion. As a well-informed contributor added in an above comment, the age-old arguments generated by the Reefer Madness hysteria are running thin. America has its head out of the sand, and this political “wait and see” excuse is nonsensical. If you want to see what this “experiment” brings just look at statistics of crime and recreational drug abuse in Amsterdam. Prescription drugs will forever be further abused than recreational drugs as somebody dies every 19 minutes from prescription drugs. I’m still waiting for someone to comment on the post begging the question as to why the war on drugs should continue. Keep in mind this “war” has mainly been against cannabis leaving little funding to actually police the drugs which are lethal.
Excuse me, do you have anything in your medicine cabinet (synthesized by Big Pharma) capable of treating over 200 ailments? I did not think so.
Have you heard about the child who ate his parent’s pot-laced gummy bears and died? Neither have I.
What’s green, has been proven to have cancer-fighting properties, has been proven to preserve heart cells (in rats) before inducing heart attacks, has been proven by VA (veteran’s affairs) research to not cause cognitive impairment in a study of identical twins, is a broncho-dilator, has been scientifically proven to be a contributor in brain-cell restoration, has absolutely no ties to lung cancer, and has been proven to NOT be a gateway drug? An innocuous, medicinal, natural plant which has been legal far longer than illegal, and embraced by millions to include those named Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

Comment #13 by Rhode Islander a on 2014 03 26

Just a thought Rhode Islander a, are those benefits based on FDA approved studies?

Comment #14 by Roy D on 2014 03 27

They are not FDA studies as the “federal prohibition of cannabis continues to limit clinical research that could investigate the safety and efficacy of cannabis to treat serious and chronic conditions or control their symptoms. In the United States research is stalled, and in some cases blocked, by a complicated federal approval process and restricted access to research-grade cannabis.”
Here is an informative link of federal studies and their outcomes which I found to be intriguing.
http://www.safeaccessnow.org/medical_cannabis_research_what_does_the_evidence_say
“Despite barriers to research, a growing body of clinical data supports the use of cannabis for medical purposes, as it has been for millennia. As a result, a growing number of public health organizations have endorsed the therapeutic use of cannabis and programs that advance medical and scientific research. Here are some of the more prominent ones.
Other professional health organizations that have endorsed the medical use of cannabis include the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the California Medical Association, the American Preventive Medical Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, and many more.”

Comment #15 by Rhode Islander a on 2014 03 27

Not sure how any organization can endorse use when there has been limited approved research. As for a "federal prohibition", that apparently has not stopped NYU from recently initiating research regarding the impacts of certain components of marijuana on people with epilepsy. This would seem to be the type of research that is needed.

Comment #16 by Roy D on 2014 03 27

For all intent and purposes, marijuana has been legalized in RI for the past year or so. That is, medically speaking.
Anyone who wants to smoke or inhale marijuana, has already gone to their doctor and received a prescription for the drug as a pain reliever or to cure glaucoma. The entire thing is a farce.
That being said, go ahead and fully legalize it, because I've been making a nice little killing on the stocks of the marijuana companies.

Comment #17 by pearl fanch on 2014 03 27

Seriously pearl? People go to their doctor, say they have glaucoma, and the doctor just writes them a prescription? Does he check that diagnosis for himself at all, or just write the script? I think you're reaching.

Comment #18 by Phil Paulson on 2014 03 29

Looks like the dopers can exhale for a while. Isn't THC availible in a pill? Oh well, the dopers say, it's just NOT the same.

Comment #19 by G Godot on 2014 04 02




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