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Rhode Island Finally Gets a Hearing for Recreational Marijuana Bill

Marijuana advocates have been eyeballing Rhode Island for the past couple of years as being a prime candidate to become one of the first states to end prohibition by way of the state legislature, but so far lawmakers have missed every opportunity to bring this progressive ideal to fruition.

However, despite House speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s indecision over the issue and his suggestion that Rhode Island should wait to see what happens in Massachusetts before taking any action, a key House committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday that could finally give way to marijuana being taxed and regulated throughout the state in a manner similar to alcohol. 

Among a list of several marijuana-related proposals up for debate, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee is set to hear H. 7752, otherwise known as the “Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act," in an effort to determine whether the creation of a retail cannabis trade that allows adults 21 and over to purchase weed from licensed dispensaries is the right move for the state.

Supporters of the measure, which was introduced earlier this year by State Senator Josh Miller, hope lawmakers are prepared to give some serious consideration to the economic enhancement that a recreational marijuana market could have for Rhode Island and its working class citizens.

“This proposal would create dozens of new businesses and thousands of new jobs across Rhode Island,” Regulate Rhode Island Director Jared Moffat told HIGH TIMES in an emailed statement. “Our state’s unemployment rate is still significantly higher than our neighbors’, and this legislation will put many Rhode Islanders back to work.”

Rhode Island is already considered a near model state in the realm of marijuana reform.

Not only has the state legislature supported efforts to decriminalize small time pot possession, it has also been applauded for getting behind medical marijuana. Miller said that he believes establishing a recreational marijuana market—one that has the potential of generating substantial revenue for the state—is a natural transition. 

“In a legal market, products would be tested, labeled and packaged appropriately, and consumers are protected from the black market where they can be exposed to other more harmful illegal substances,” Miller said last year. “Our legislation would put the illegal marijuana dealers out of business while generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue that we can invest in our communities.” 

Although Governor Gina Raimondo is not exactly opposed to the concept of a taxed and regulated market, she has avoided this idea when dredging up schemes to drag the state out of financial turmoil. Instead, she has looked to the medical marijuana industry as a source of additional revenue, proposing a tax on home cultivation that would force patients to pay $150 per plant.

Needless to say, the governor’s unconventional plan was not well received. Pot advocates argued that if the state was looking toward marijuana for economic release, then lawmakers should stop sandbagging the launch of a recreational sector.

Eric Casey, a regulatory analyst for 4Front Ventures, told HIGH TIMES that the Colorado cannabis industry currently employs over 20,000 people—a statistic that he believes Rhode Island lawmakers need to consider when voting on legislation that affects the well being of the state’s workforce.

“Instead of continuing to have an out of control underground market, Rhode Island has the opportunity to create a responsibly regulated, legal market,” he said. "Workers will be better protected, provided salaries and benefits, and paying into the tax system.”

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