RI State Report: Is It High Time to Legalize Marijuana?

Saturday, February 09, 2013


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The biggest topic at the State House this week was whether or not Rhode Island should consider legalizing marijuana.

With the new marijuana decriminalization law set to go into effect this spring, lawmakers were busy this week introducing legislation that addresses legalization, taxation and regulation of the drug. This week’s State Report also examines several bills looking to bring much-needed relief to the wallets of Rhode Islanders. Keeping in line with the economic relief trend, we’ll also examine how a newly announced federal disaster aid package impacts the state. Lastly, Twin River has updated its job projections. Keep reading to see to find out if you are more or less likely to get a job at the expanding casino.

General Assembly introduces marijuana legalization, regulation bills

On Wednesday, Representative Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence) and Senator Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket) revealed matching bills that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in Rhode Island.

“It is time for Rhode Island to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition behind us and adopt a more sensible approach just as our nation did with alcohol 80 years ago,” Ajello said. “By keeping marijuana sales in the underground market, we are ensuring they will be uncontrolled and that those selling it are not asking for proof of age. Regulating marijuana like alcohol will take marijuana sales off the street and put them in the hands of legitimate businesses that would face real disincentives for selling to minors. These new businesses will also create jobs and generate much-needed new tax revenue.”

The legislation would make it legal for adults 21 and over to carry an ounce or less of marijuana and establish alcohol-like regulations on sales and production.

According to Ajello, regulating the sale of marijuana would eradicate the black market and raise approximately $10 million in revenue. Ajello also says legalization would save Rhode Island an estimated $20 million per year by stopping the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of people for marijuana-related offenses.

In June, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a new law decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, which takes effect April 1. Under the law, adults caught with an ounce of less of marijuana would face a $150 fine, while minors would have to complete a drug awareness program and perform community service.

Lombardi introduces bill to ban credit card surcharges

There are currently 10 states that prohibit credit card customer surcharges and Rep. John Lombardi would like Rhode Island to be the 11th. On Tuesday, Lombardi (D-Dist. 8, Providence) introduced legislation that prohibits retailers from charging customers extra for using a credit card to make a purchase.

“Merchants have always assumed credit card processing fees as a cost of doing business, and as a convenience to their customers who make purchases with credit cards,” Lombardi said. “As the economy continues to be sluggish, merchants are understandably looking for ways to defray their own costs, but passing along this surcharge to customers is just not very consumer-friendly. Consumers don’t really take too well to paying for things that used to be free.”

Merchants that violate the provision would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to one year in prison.

Lombardi’s bill (2013-H5213) has been referred to the House Committee on Corporations. Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence), Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Rep. Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) and Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) have all signed on as co-sponsors.

Aside from his fellow representatives, Lombardi’s legislation has also gained the support of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

“It is imperative that we take steps to protect our consumers,” Kilmartin said in a letter to the Corporations Committee chair. “Even more pressing as our neighbor states of Connecticut and Massachusetts already have this protection.”

In addition to Connecticut and Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Maine, New York, Oklahoma and Texas have all banned the surcharges.

Sosnowski calls for repeal of sales tax on taxi cab, pet services

In an effort to facilitate economic growth, Sen. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingston, New Shoreham) has announced legislation that would eliminate the state’s taxes on taxi cab and pet services. The first bill (2013-S 0066) would repeal the seven-percent sales tax on pet care services, including grooming, training, board and training. Sen. Sosnowski’s second bill (2013-S 0067) eliminates the sales tax on taxi cab services.

“We can’t keep implementing taxes on our most vulnerable businesses,” Sosnowski said. “A lot of the pet care services provided in this state do not come from big corporations – many are mom ‘n’ pop shops looking to survive in a tough economy. The sales tax on taxi services is just as worrying. This is not New York City – there isn’t an abundance of alternative transportation running through this state. We need the companies running those services to want to stay in Rhode Island, and right now that sales tax is giving them an excuse to pick up and go somewhere else.”

Rep. Joseph Shekarchi and Rep. John G. Edwards have introduced similar legislation in the House. Both of Sosnowski’s bills have been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, while the House bill has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

RI gets over $3.2 million in federal storm aid

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Thanks to federal funds, Rhode Island homeowners hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy will soon get some relief.

Rhode Islanders ravaged by Superstorm Sandy will soon receive some needed relief. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that the state will be awarded over $3.2 million in federal funding as part of the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG).

According to CDBG, the federal government allows states to determine how the allocated relief funds are to be spent. Although Rhode Island wasn’t hit nearly as hard as areas like New York and New Jersey, Chafee contends that the state will put the money to good use.

“I am pleased that Rhode Island is eligible to receive $3.24 million for Hurricane Sandy related housing and business needs from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds,” Chafee said. “While Rhode Island fared well in the storm compared to some of our fellow Northeaster states, these funds will greatly assist Rhode Island residents’ unmet needs to repair their homes and businesses.”

Congress has approved a total of $16 billion in CDBG funding. New York City, New York state, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut have also been awarded funding.

Twin River to hire 600 workers

On Thursday, executives at Twin River Casino announced they would be adding 600 full-time and part-time jobs by July to prepare for the casino’s table game expansion. The job estimate is 250 more jobs than initially anticipated.

Twin River officials say they’ll be doing the majority of the hiring in March and April. The casino is currently looking to fill dealer, manager, accountant, cashier and security personnel positions. Luckily for local residents, Twin River says that nearly 85 percent of new workers will be Rhode Islanders.

Voters chose to approve casino gambling at Lincoln’s Twin River Casino in November. Expanded gambling is projected to raise $100 million for the state annually. Although Lincoln residents voted overwhelmingly in favor table gaming, Newport voters balked at expanded gambling at Newport Grand Casino.


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