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Will Rhode Island Be The Next State To Legalize Marijuana?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Rhode Island could potentially be one of the next states to legalize marijuana, although big hurdles do remain.

With recreational use legal in Washington and Colorado, a spokesperson for the drug law reform group Marijuana Policy Project tallies a dozen states where legalization could become reality.

“Given the level of support we've seen among residents and lawmakers, it could very well be Rhode Island,” says that group's spokesperson Mason Tvert.

But whether legislation to tax and regulate the drug comes up for a vote in the General Assembly remains to be seen.

Mixed signals whether state bill moves in 2014

“We have gained momentum every year. Each year more of my colleagues have told me they're eager to sign on as a co-sponsor,” said Rep. Edith Ajello, the House sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act.

Introduced for the past three years and expected to be reintroduced later this month, the bill received testimony in committee in 2013 but was not taken up for a vote.

While receiving additional support, there's question whether the legislation sees any further action this time around after Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed have both cast doubts on its chances in 2014.

National debate focusing on key states through 2016

The path toward legalization varies from state to state along two options: legislation or public referendum.

“In 2014, Alaska and Oregon look to be next for citizen voter initiatives,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). In addition to California, “those will make up the best chances,” St. Pierre said.

In terms of legislative action, the head of NORML said Rhode Island would be one of the states to push legalization legislation the furthest. “Rhode Island has a unique history unlike any other, in that it's the only state that has overridden governors' vetoes,” he said. “(Gov. Chafee) could find himself in the same situation.”

“Rhode Island and Maine represent the best opportunities in the nation to legislatively pass marijuana legalization.” And if he was a betting man, St. Pierre said his money would be on the Ocean State.

Lobbying for ballot initiatives and legislation

“Our organization has made it clear we're going to support ballot initiatives and lobbying in state legislatures,” Tvert said, tallying possible ballot measures in Massachusetts, Maine, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Montana, most in 2016 during the next presidential cycle.

Meanwhile, there's some momentum for state lawmakers to pass legislation in Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Hawaii.

While Rhode Island's “tax and regulate” bill has stalled each successive year, “we're certainly working to get the measure passed,” Tvert said.

An alliance of support has formed in the state as the Coalition for Marijuana Regulation.

Speaking to GoLocal last month on the issue, state Sen. Josh Miller, a co-sponsor last year expected to introduce the bill this session, said the change would create revenue while also controlling access better than under a criminal system.

Marijuana sales in Colorado topped $1 million on New Years Day, the first day dispensaries were allowed to operate.

“There's always a revenue component,” Miller said, continuing on to say a portion of revenues would respond to drug abuse in Rhode Island. One provision of the bill designates 40 percent of revenue raised from sales would go to fund programs for alcohol and drug abuse treatment. “That's important,” Miller said.

“Prohibition hasn't worked,” contends Ajello, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who points to easier access currently among youth to marijuana than alcohol. “I am concerned about young people.”

By regulating the sale and providing a legal avenue for purchase, illicit sales will not be so profitable, Ajello said. “Minors' access to marijuana should go down substantially. That's a big part of it.”

“And because there's so much responsible use by adults, apparently, it makes sense to tax and regulate it,” she added.

Public opinion moving toward support

A January 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found 52 percent of respondents in the state supported treating marijuana like alcohol, taxed and regulated and legal for adults 21 and older.

“One of the ways to see public understanding is to introduce a bill and have a discussion,” according to Miller.

Rhode Island's legislation would remove state-level criminal penalties for the private possession by adults of up to one ounce of marijuana, and allow for the private growing of up to three mature plants in an enclosed, locked space.

The bill would also establish a system of licensed retail stores and cultivation facilities regulated under the Department of Business Regulation. An excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on the wholesale sale of marijuana would be applied at the point of transfer before retail, and retailers would be required to collect the state's 7 percent sales tax.

Too soon in Rhode Island?

Last week, Chafee told the Associated Press it was premature to be considering legalization in Rhode Island, where the state's decriminalization measure went into effect early last year. He told reporters that the impact of last year's change would need to be better understood before the state follows with legalization.

Located in Denver, Tvert sees significant and growing support for the change across the nation, including bipartisan support in Rhode Island by way of House Republican Minority Leader Brian Newberry's cosponsorship last year.

“Colorado and Washington are demonstrating to the other states that regulating marijuana is possible and we believe it will be a fair and effective alternative to prohibition,” Tvert said.

While often compared to the taxation and regulation of alcohol, Tvert said the public health costs and consequences of that substance were far greater.

“If we're truly interested (in public health) we should be allowing adults to choose the less harmful substance,” he continued. “Marijuana has been used for a long time, and it's not going anywhere. It's time to get our heads out of the sand.”


Related Slideshow: Marijuana Use in the New England States

According to data collected by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, New Englanders are among the nation's top marijuana users in the country.  See how the indivdual states compare in the slides below:

Prev Next

6. Maine

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 12.45%

National Rank: 13th most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (2.5 ounces or less)

Prev Next

5. Connecticut

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 12.50%

National Rank: 12th most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (less than 0.5 ounce)

Prev Next

4. Massachusetts

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.19%

National Rank: 5th most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)

Prev Next

3. New Hampshire

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.60%

National Rank: 4th most

Possession Laws: Medical Use Only

Prev Next

2. Rhode Island

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.85%

National Rank: 3rd most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)

Prev Next

1. Vermont

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.90%

National Rank: 2nd most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)


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Ryan Donaghy, Chairman of the Board Donaghy Sales, LLC Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

Ron Fowler, Immediate Past Chairman Liquid Investments, LLC Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

Tom Reyes, Vice Chairman Crest Beverage, LLC; Gate City Beverage Distributors-San Bernardino; Harbor Distributing, LLC-Anaheim, Gardena, Santa Ana Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

David "Duke" Reyes, Chief Financial Officer Crest Beverage, LLC; Gate City Beverage Distributors-San Bernardino; Harbor Distributing, LLC-Anaheim, Gardena, Santa Ana Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

Peter Heimark, Secretary Heimark Distributing Co. Triangle Distributing Co. Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

Terence Fox, NBWA CA Director M.E. Fox and Co. Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

Travis Markstein, NBWA CA Director Markstein Beverage Co. Sacramento; Markstein Beverage Co. San Marcos Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

Cherisse Alford, CBBD PAC Chair Alford Distributing, Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

Jeff Jordano, Management Committee Member Pacific Beverage Co. Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts

T.J. Louderback, Management Committee Member Anheuser-Busch In Bev Sales Inc. of Pomona and Antelope Valley, Alcoholic beverage distributer, steadily funds anti-marijuana efforts
etc. etc. etc.


Comment #1 by malcolm kyle on 2014 01 15

And this is going to help the job market how?

This state is so fracked up, only being stoned out of your mind could hide the disaster the Democrats bring to the table.

Gay marriage, new gambling casino, more gun regulation and legalization of pot. All non-job creating topics the morons in the general assembly are concentrating on.

RI is beyond lost.


Remember the biggest lie of 2013 -

"If you like your healthcare, you can keep it. If you like your doctor, you can keep him. PERIOD."

- B. Hussein Obama

Comment #2 by Killary Klinton on 2014 01 15

way bad idea.

Comment #3 by LENNY BRUCE on 2014 01 15

Can we have a state referendum on building business friendly strategy in RI FIRST?
Will new businesses be flocking to RI that has gone to POT?
Look at the attractions: Schools at the bottom, Taxes at the top, National headlines on RI being leaderless and mismanaged, the third highest tax revenue is from gambling and 1/2 of that is going to disappear overnight to MA and let's not forget RI has the highest unemployment.
Will "MarryWanna" fix any of this, NO.
Any idiot knows drugs destroy and yes alcohol is a drug but that doesn't justify bringing on another one. Costs out way and revenue, busted up lives, damage, crime and if its only 1 kid dies will that kid be one of yours, your neighbors, a family member.
Yes, Get your collective heads out of the sand, RI has too many PROBLEMS now to introduce another one.

Comment #4 by Gary Arnold on 2014 01 15

I'm not against marihuana but with 300,000 Federal Jobs and Federal Contracting positions in MA, CT, and RI we cannot afford to leave so many people out of this job market. That doesn't include the private sector employers that require drug testing. Until the federal government legalizes its use, its not worth risking good job opportunities for our citizens.

Comment #5 by Anthony DeFusco on 2014 01 15

Since I am leaving this state within a few years, go ahead and legalize it. There is not much to lose here in little corrupt Rhody. Maybe if the GA starts smoking it, they'll do less harm.

Comment #6 by Dave Barry on 2014 01 15

LOL Dave Barry! "An excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on the wholesale sale of marijuana would be applied at the point of transfer before retail, and retailers would be required to collect the state's 7 percent sales tax." This is what it's all about! The GA doesn't care if it's good or bad policy, they just want the money.

Comment #7 by joe pregiato on 2014 01 15

Doesn't this sorry state have enough problems to deal with? The idiots want to add Pot to the mix. Fine, my family is getting out of here in a few years too. Go ahead, do your worse.

Comment #8 by Joyce Bryant on 2014 01 15

So very sad: government legitimizing the recreational use of a drug that harms neurochemistry for the sake of the almighty dollar. Society has not decayed enough? What is next?

Comment #9 by Christopher Lee on 2014 01 15

I’ve heard that there are people who abuse their own naughty parts! What kind of society would we have if that were legal?!? There would be people doing that when they’re driving! Their cars would be bouncing up and down like those hydraulic hot rods that are driven by our Country's unregistered guests! I don’t want to see people playing with their privates in public places either! It makes people go blind! I've known lots of blind people and every one of them abused their own naughty parts before they went blind! If we legalize that then we would have to let people marry their hands for crying out loud! Ooooh, I’m so excited! I asked for my hand in marriage today and it said yes! Where the heck does someone get a wedding dress for their hand? ’nuff said!

Comment #10 by Duncan Wallace on 2014 01 15

Thanks Duncan for your WUI (writing under the influence) insight. (you see folks, this is why RI is on it's way down)

Comment #11 by joe pregiato on 2014 01 15

what is the problem here it is only a female cigaret Mary Juwana

Comment #12 by Howard Miller on 2014 01 15

okay, so anyone against this is an idiot. do you realize how stupid it is that it is even illegal? get over youself, those of whom who dont back it. pot saves some people's lives. it has also never killed anyone. and i would bet a whole lotta money that everyone who doesnt back it drinks atleast 3 times a week and drinks and drives too. pretty sure alcohol is the leading cause of death. yet that is legal and you have NOTHING against that. seriously go get a reality check and go f*ck yourself. pot make you sleepy hungry and happy, what the hell is wrong with that? IT COMES FROM NATURE. like are you kidding? and just because it is legal doesnt mean jobs still cant make drug tests a part of the hiring process. i have smoked pot every single day since i was 16. i make over a 100 grand a year and got straight a's through college. yet im the idiot? This state and this country is in serious debt. weird how in Colorado they already made over a million dollars in tax revenue in less than a month of it being legal and sold retail. SO WEIRD OMG. You people are ridiculous.

Comment #13 by Emily D on 2014 01 16

and how doesnt it create jobs. shit isnt going to grow itself or sell itself. and youre definitely a stupid christian since you brought up gay marriage in a marijuana debate. meaning youre opinion on anything is irrelevant. guess what else i love besides smoking marijuana? gay people. because theyre just like you and me. love is love GET OVER IT IT ISNT THE 1900's ANYMORE.

Comment #14 by Emily D on 2014 01 16

For all intent and purposes, it already is legalized. I'm with Dave. Do what you want to this wasteland, I'm leaving soon anyway.

Comment #15 by pearl fanch on 2014 01 16

Rhode Island will be the very last state to legalize marijuana because the police unions will not allow it.

Marijuana arrests amount to 20% of all police activity and 50% of all property seized.

Legalization of marijuana = police officer layoffs

Comment #16 by George Costanza on 2014 02 11

George, which Rhode Island are you talking about? This article is about the one in the United States, which has an effective medicinal cannabis patient protection law, decriminalization of petty possession, and more than enough unsolved crime to not just keep 20% of the current police force busy but another 20% on top of that if the people weren't too cheap to pick up the tab. Rhode Island is light years ahead of most States in reforming the stupidity of the absolute prohibition of cannabis.

Please stop feeling sorry for yourself.It's just plain pathetic. You could live in Oklahoma, Texas or Idaho you know.

Comment #17 by Duncan Wallace on 2014 02 12

Hi Duncan:

Next time you want to throw around insults you should first do your homework. My comment wasn't original, it was regurgitated from many different news sources (wsg, nytimes, etc).

Pot was also decriminalized in the states of WA and CO. Since legalization for recreational use, police forces in WA have begun layoffs. Snohomish County saw an immediate reduction in 15% of their total funding. They are now considering laying off 19 detectives who were focused solely on marijuana interdiction.

Governor Cuomo in NY was for legalization until the police union spoke to him. Now he is against legalization for recreational use in NY.

For the record, I am for legalization of marijuana. The criminal justice industry (police and corrections officers) are a very powerful interest, especially in RI.

Police officers in Providence may have a lot to do, but in many parts of the state the unions resort to mandatory staffing techniques, like construction details, to fend off layoffs.

Comment #18 by George Costanza on 2014 02 12

You are mistaken if you think that statements of fact are insults. If you don't like being called pathetic don't be pathetic. If you insist on being pathetic, don't be surprised if people notice it verbally. Particularly me.

Finding prohibitionists blaming I-502 for anything is proof of nothing. In case you haven't noticed those people build their entire argument on a platform consisting of nothing other than bald faced lies, half truths, and hysterical rhetoric.

Feel free to enjoy the last word if you enjoy talking to yourself. Today I won't forget to turn off comments notification for this month old article.


Comment #19 by Duncan Wallace on 2014 02 12

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.