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Rhode Island Officials Are Considering Marijuana Legalization

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States surrounding Rhode Island are legalizing recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is already legal but some lawmakers want to go a step further and try to pass a recreational marijuana law. The new legislative session starts next month.

With the state surrounded by “green,” there’s a little more pressure to pass legalization legislation, The Providence Journal suggests. Legalization efforts have never reached voting status in Rhode Island. Of course, anti-legalization groups are voicing their opinions too.

Representative Scott Slater said, “With the reality of it being all around us, I think folks have to look at it a little harder now. Even if you’re against recreational cannabis and you feel there are social costs to it, you’re going to be dealing with those issues within your own borders, regardless, and without any of the revenue you could be raising. You might as well regulate it and tax it and put some of that money toward prevention.”

Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) said, “Rhode Island is definitely a priority for us going into 2019. If anything, the stakes have gotten higher in terms of the effects of legalization around the country. All this talk of legalization is obscuring the fact that today’s marijuana is so much more harmful. This is not your Woodstock-variety weed. It is high potency. It tells me we need to talk less about legalization and talk more about prevention and treatment, given where Rhode Island is right now.”

Representative Slater plans to introduce recreational marijuana legalization legislation. His bill would include a provision for communities to impose bans or restrictions if they choose to.

Slater said, “I need to be sure everyone is comfortable with the regulations around it. I need to get my fellow legislators to see it is a safer policy to tax and regulate than prohibition, which hasn’t worked.”

The state already having a medical marijuana program in place could help implementing recreational marijuana a little easier.

Slater said, “I don’t think it would be a big deal to flip the switch to recreational.”

Norman Birenbaum has a different opinion on the speed of implementing recreational marijuana laws.

Birenbaum said, “It would not simply be flipping a light switch.”

Matthew Schweich of MPP said, “The piece of it that has changed is even those who are on the fence [about legalization], even they have to see that pragmatically there’s a pretty strong reason to go ahead on this and legalize it. Regardless of what the General Assembly does, Rhode Island adults will be buying legal marijuana from Massachusetts stores and, perhaps Connecticut, very soon.”