Rhode Island State Senators Voice Disapproval of Potential Marijuana Legalization

Another showdown is brewing between the General Assembly and Governor Gina Raimondo.
Illinois Senate Approves Adult-Use Marijuana Legalization Bill

For years, Rhode Island’s state legislature has seemed to be on the brink of legalizing recreational cannabis. The state’s Governor Gina Raimondo announced at the beginning of the year her plans to aide legalization and was thwarted in the attempt. Now, an end of year roadblock has emerged. In a Tuesday interview, Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said they won’t be throwing their support behind any plans to regulate adult use cannabis in 2020. 

“I supported medical marijuana, and I’m disappointed over how it has been handled,” said Ruggerio in an interview with the Boston Globe. 

The politician cited legalization’s effects on neighboring state Massachusetts, in particular what he sees as increased rates of car accidents from impaired driving. 

A report examining traffic fatalities in Massachusetts between the years 2013 to 2017 found that marijuana was involved in 31 percent of accidents that caused a death. 

“Massachusetts is starting to realize the side effects of it, and insurance rates are going up,” said Rhode Island Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey in the same article. 

Their comments mark the latest chapter in an ongoing battle between the second term governor and the state’s general assembly over the future of cannabis in Rhode Island. 

Cannabis in Rhode Island

In October, Raimondo sued the legislature to take away its control over medical marijuana and hemp laws. 

“You can’t just unilaterally go and change the statute just because you don’t agree with it,” said Ruggerio of this move.

The state senate leaders did not offer any suggestions on how the state would be able to alternatively raise the tax revenue that would be brought in by recreational cannabis sales. 

Governor Raimondo’s 2019 budget did authorize an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, giving the go-ahead to six additional cannabis dispensaries. Her proposed regulations also would have banned individuals from growing cannabis for personal use in their home, and would not allow recreational dispensaries to sell high THC products. Edibles in particular would be limited in their potency to 5 milligrams of THC. 

The plan, which would have created one of the most strictly regulated recreational industries in the country, estimated that sales from adult use cannabis would bring in $14.3 million in revenue by the end of 2020. 

This is far from the first time that Raimondo has brought up the prospect of adult use legalization. Though she’s never sounded one hundred percent convinced of the wisdom of adult use cannabis regulation, as far back as 2016, the governor was hyping the potential tax revenue and jobs that it could bring to the country’s smallest state. 

Raimundo has often referred to pressure from neighboring states where cannabis is already legal in her discussions of Rhode Island regulation. 
“We’re not an island, in fact,” she said in January after including recreational marijuana in her state budget plans. “Like it or not, we’re going to be incurring public safety and public health expenses because it’s legal in Massachusetts… And I think it is time for us to put together our own regulatory and taxing framework.”

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