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Monday, February 13, 2017

Time to legalize, regulate

By Bob Plain in Rhode Island’s Future

regulate ri graphicAll the relevant metrics seem to support legalizing marijuana in Rhode Island.

new poll from Regulate Rhode Island show 59 percent of Rhode Island supports making marijuana legal. That’s a steady increase from similar polls in past years, said Regulate RI Director Jared Moffat.

“We have seen support steadily increasing over the years,” he said. “This is a sign that the people of the Rhode Island support this and as time goes on, support only grows. We feel that now is the time for Rhode Island to move forward.”

More importantly, majorities in both chambers of the state legislature are ready to vote for the so-called tax and regulate bill, according to an unofficial whip count.

This last obstacle is convincing Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and House Speaker Nick Mattiello. 

Activists thought they had majority support in both chambers last year, too, but the bill never got a vote.

“I think they are being much more open-minded about it than any year past,” said Senator Josh Miller, at a press conference earlier this week.



He said the latest poll should help convince legislative leadership. “One of the reasons of going out and spending the time and money on a poll is to add to that open-mindedness.”

Miller added, “I’m more confident than ever, that’s the best prediction I can give you. I’ve gotten great signals from people both privately and publicly on their support. We’re trending towards success.”

Moffat said after the press conference, “We are very confident that if the bill is allowed to come up for a vote, we have the majority of votes we need in both chambers. The only question is whether the Speaker and Senate President will allow the process to move forward.”

Rhode Island would be the ninth state to legalize cannabis: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Nevada, Maine, and – most critically – Massachusetts have already done so. 

Possession of pot is now legal in Massachusetts, after voters approved a referendum in November, and the state legislature is deciding on a regulatory structure for retail sales.

“For us not to do it now, we’re going to miss out on a major opportunity,” said Rep. Scott Slater, the lead sponsor in the House. “When Massachusetts goes live you better believe they are going to pop up stores all along the border of our state.”

Moffat said Rhode Island can expect $48 million in additional tax revenue by 2020 if it moves forward with legalization this year.

This is the seventh year the state legislature has considered a bill to legalize marijuana. Miller scoffed at the notion that Rhode Island should take a wait-and-see approach.

“Slow down?” he said. “We had a Senate commission that studied the prohibition of marijuana in 2011, the bill has been out there for several years, we now have other state models in Washington and Colorado and elsewhere that have gone through with very little administrative or legal obstacles to them. I think we have been slow on this, slower than most legislators want and slower than the polls show most citizens of Rhode Island want to go on this.”

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.