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Marijuana Advocates Critical of Raimondo’s Proposed Non-Binding Referendum

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Governor Gina Raimondo, wants to tax medical marijuana

For the second time in the past few months, those advocating access to medical marijuana -- and the legalization of marijuana -- have criticized Governor Gina Raimondo's moves to control the issue in Rhode Island. 

Protesters of Raimondo's proposed tax on medical marijuana took to the Rhode Island State House in February; now proponents of full-scale marijuana legalization -- which has had legislative proposals in both General Assembly chambers -- are questioning why the Governor is calling for a non-binding referendum. 

"We already know that a strong majority of voters do in fact support this proposal (to legalize marijuana). Three Rhode Island polls in recent years have all found that a majority of voters favor the idea, with the most recent one showing 57% of voters supportive and only 35% opposed," said Jared Moffat, Director of Regulate Rhode Island. 

"Since the public has already expressed strong support, we believe Gov. Raimondo and other lawmakers have the mandate they need to move forward on the current legislation that has been proposed," said Moffat.

Speaker Mattiello Considering 

“I am considering the possibility of placing a non-binding referendum question on the ballot regarding the use of recreational marijuana.  The legislation on this issue has not been considered yet by the House Judiciary Committee.  After a public hearing is held in the near future, the House will consider the various options,” said Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is an email to GoLocal.

Medical Marijuana Advocates Opposed to Raimondo's Tax

In February, protesters of Raimondo's proposed tax on medical marijuana, including the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, blasted the Governor's proposal to tax the medicine

The organizer of the event said: Governor Gina Raimondo's proposed amendments in the 2017 budget would tax the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Program to the point where patients will not be able to afford their medicine. RIPAC and RCRI will be hosting a protest of the profitization of our Medical Program. The sick and ailing should never be the target of surplus tax revenue. We need to let our Governor know that concept will never change!!!!

Common Cause RI's John Marion

Historic Perspective of a Non-Binding Referendum

Common Cause RI's John Marion pointed out that Governors used to have the capacity to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot themselves, but that was done away with in part due to Governor Lincoln Almond. 

"Governors used to have the ability to put non-binding referendum on the ballot -- but when Governor Almond put the [non-binding] separation of powers referendum on the ballot -- and it was approved -- the General Assembly moved to say that Governors could no longer do so moving forward," said Marion, who noted that the Assembly then moved on the issue in light of public pressure. "But the next election it went through the body and the public voted for it anyway. So if it's a non-binding referendum [for marijuana legalization], I would assume someone in the Assembly would have to propose it."


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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