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State Report: Marijuana Tax + Bill Targets Prostitutes and Pimps

Saturday, April 19, 2014


This week’s State Report centers on a news conference held Wednesday at the State House in which experts voiced their support for a bill to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. Additionally, we’ll look at three newly approved Senate bills, which address gang violence, forfeiture provisions for pimps and prostitutes, and a new memorial at the Vets’ Cemetery in Exeter. Also on the docket is a bill approved by both chambers that allows for the use of digital insurance cards.

Marijuana Tax 

State legislators, former police officers, and health and legal experts joined representatives of several organizations at a news conference Wednesday to voice their support for a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol in Rhode Island.

Speakers at the event included the bill's sponsor, Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence); Dr. David Lewis, founder of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University; Professor Andy Horwitz, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at Roger Williams University School of Law; and Beth Comery, a former Providence police officer.

A bipartisan group of 29 sponsors, including House Minority Leader Rep. Brian Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), is supporting the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act (2014-H 7506) . The bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow one mature marijuana plant in an enclosed, locked space. It would establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities, with no more than 10 total retailers in the state. The bill proposes a wholesale excise tax of up to $50 per ounce of flowers and $10 per ounce of leaves applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store, along with a 10-percent sales tax. The Department of Business Regulation would be charged with establishing rules regulating security, labeling, health, and safety requirements.

A report released last week by OpenDoors estimates that the legislation would generate between $21.5 and $82 million in tax revenue each year.

Fifty-three percent of Rhode Island voters support changing state law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released in January.

Advocates for marijuana tax

Statement from Rep. Edith Ajello, sponsor of H 7506:

“Our current marijuana prohibition policies ensure we have no control over the product and criminal enterprises do. It's time for a new approach. Our state has demonstrated that it can implement drug policy reforms that are effective and beneficial to all Rhode Islanders. I'm confident that ending the prohibition of marijuana and replacing it with a system of regulation and control would produce similar results.”

Statement from Dr. David Lewis, founder of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University:

“There is no question that strict marijuana regulation is essential for the health and safety of our community. However, using the criminal justice system to do this has neither minimized marijuana’s use nor reduced its harm. New authentic public health approaches are both necessary and inevitable. House Bill 7506 provides such rigorous regulation and so deserves our serious consideration.”

Statement from Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project:

“Colorado generated roughly $4 million in new tax revenue in the first two months of regulated adult marijuana sales. Plenty of adults in Rhode Island bought marijuana during that same period of time, but the only ones who collected revenue were cartels and other criminal enterprises. Marijuana is less toxic than alcohol, it’s less addictive, and it’s less likely to contribute to violence. There is no reason why it cannot be treated that way.”

Statement from Rebecca McGoldrick, executive director of Protect Families First:

“It’s time we get honest about how our drug policies affect our families. Marijuana prohibition isn’t making our children’s lives better. It’s making them worse.”

Statement from Beth Comery, former Povidence police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP):

“Opponents ask that we 'wait and see' how things play out in Colorado and Washington, but we’ve already experimented with marijuana prohibition long enough to know that it is a total failure. Reports coming out of Colorado are almost universally positive: fewer pointless arrests for marijuana, new jobs and businesses, and millions of dollars in tax revenue.”

Statement from Andy Horwitz, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at Roger Williams University School of Law:

“As a criminal defense lawyer, I’ve seen too many cases of people charged with nonviolent marijuana crimes, leading me and many of my colleagues to conclude that marijuana prohibition is a wasteful and harmful policy. I urge legislators to give this well-crafted bill the attention and ultimate vote it deserves.” 


For more legislative news from the past week, see the slideshow below. 


Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week (4/19/14)

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Improving Government Operations

Rep. Patricia Morgan said Thursday that she was encouraged by Finance Committee interest in bills aimed at improving state government operations.

The bills, 2014-H-78152014-H-7816 and 2014-H 7486, were filed by Morgan after extensive discussion with the Department of Administration, which supports the legislation.

“Statistics show that for each $1 spent on lean government processes in the beginning phases of implementation that $10 of savings is achieved.  As employees become more familiar with the tools, those savings can grow.  Project results were just published for one state showing a 40 to 1 return for each dollar invested,” said Morgan.

"The principles and methods of lean government are not yet part of our culture here in RI.  With large projected deficits facing us, it’s important to accelerate the adoption of quality improvement techniques at both the state and municipal levels. This legislation will make it easier for government, at all levels, to begin to make these improvements,” she said.

Anthony DeMarinis, sub-committee chair of the RI Section of the American Society for Quality, a local organization of over 400 quality professionals, told the House Finance Committee Tuesday that "The RIASQ is excited to see Rhode Island state and local governments learn the principles and methods we use in private industry every day.”

“We are confident adoption of continuous improvement processes will help state employees and taxpayers realize better service and more effective and efficient use of both people and dollars,” DeMarinis said.

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Vets’ Cemetery Study

On Wednesday, the Senate today approved legislation, 2014-S 2425A, to create a joint commission with the House to study the establishment of a Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial at the veterans’ resting ground.

“Remembering the members of our military with some sort of monument or memorial is a way of paying tribute, of recognizing their service to their nation,” said Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs. “While we honor those who wore the uniform in the more distant past, we should also honor those who served more recently. They were equally patriots.”

The legislation would create a nine-member study commission that would conduct its study and issue its finding by next March. Membership would include three members of the Senate, three members of the House of Representatives, the Associate Director of the Division of Veterans’ Affairs of the Department of Human Services, a veteran of the First Gulf War and a faculty member of the arts department in one of the state’s colleges.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration. A companion House bill, 2014-H 7704, introduced by Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown), is before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

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Increased Sentences for Gang Crimes

The Senate has passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul V. Jabour to mete out longer sentences for crimes committed in connection to gang activity. The bill was introduced on behalf of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.

The legislation (2014-S 2639), which passed the Senate Wednesday, would add an additional term of up to 10 years for any felony committed in association with any criminal street gang. The sentence is to be served consecutively with whatever sentence the defendant receives for the crime itself, but would not be allowed to be suspended.

“Gang violence plagues neighborhoods and communities throughout the state. Gang activity not only threatens the safety of those participating in the gang, it creates nuisances in our neighborhoods and puts innocent people at risk due to the high levels of violence and retaliation, which in turn creates innocent victims,” said Attorney General Kilmartin. “By providing enhanced penalties for felonies that are committed for the benefit of or at the direction of a gang, we will be able to reduce gang-related crime and violence and deter vulnerable youth from joining criminal street gangs.”

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Targeting Prostitutes and Pimps

Addressing what he calls an unjust result of current law, Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), in cooperation with the Office of the Attorney General, introduced legislation to help law enforcement target pimps and others who derive proceeds from pandering or permitting prostitution in the state.

The legislation, 2014-S 2820, was passed Wednesday by the Senate and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Under current law, those convicted of prostitution have been subject to forfeiture of any assets received due to their unlawful acts. But those who induce or allow another to provide those services have not been subject to the forfeiture of proceeds that result from the unlawful activity.

The legislation will strike the forfeiture provision from law as it applies to prostitutes, and will add the forfeiture provision to the law dealing with “pimps,” or, as the law describes them, individuals who by any promise or threat, by abuse or by any other device or scheme cause, induce, persuade or encourage a person to become a prostitute.

“Striking the forfeiture provision as it applies to prostitutes does not mitigate the severity of that unlawful act, or the punishments resulting from it,” said Sen. Lombardi. “But the law, as it currently stands, weighs more heavily on the prostitutes than on the individuals who may be forcing or coercing other individuals to perform sexual acts for money and who are benefitting financially from it.”

The legislation also adds the offense of conspiracy to violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act to those offenses subject to the forfeiture provisions.

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Digital Auto Insurance Cards

The General Assembly passed legislation Tuesday that would give motorists the freedom to travel without a paper insurance card as long as they have digital proof of insurance. The bill will now be transmitted to Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s office for a signature into law.

The act allows insurance customers to use their smartphones, tablets or other mobile electronics to display digital insurance cards as proof of financial responsibility in the case of a traffic stop or motor vehicle accident. It also includes a provision prohibiting law enforcement officers from viewing any other content on those devices, thus protecting each consumer’s right to privacy.

“There are an abundance of auto insurance customers who own electronic devices – especially smartphones – and would like to be able to use their digital insurance cards as a matter of convenience,” said Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), primary sponsor of the Senate bill (2014-S 2444). “This bill makes that possible. Obviously, cutting down on the number of paper cards is also beneficial to the environment.”

According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), the number of states allowing electronic proof of insurance grew from zero to 31 between 2012 and 2013. PCI is a property casualty trade association, which tracks related state and national issues for more than 1,000 member companies.


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