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Rhode Island Legislature Pressured on Marijuana Laws as Massachusetts Legalization Begins

Posted by Ken Barrett | Jan 18, 2018 | 0 Comments

While Rhode Island's neighbor to the north prepares for recreational sales, our state has been unable to gain traction to do the same. Until -- maybe -- now.

Voters in Massachusetts, our northern neighbor, passed their measure on the issue in November 2017. On October 25, 2017, just before Massachusetts passed its recreational marijuana measure, Rhode Island's special legislative committee on the legalization of recreational marijuana convened. As of the end of 2017, the committee had no staff or budget in place yet. At the end of 2017, Rhode Island's Democratic Senator Joshua Miller called for progress. His claims are logical: Rhode Island residents will purchase marijuana in Massachusetts to our financial detriment. Rhode Island will not gain any tax proceeds and other financial benefits but will watch as residents' dollars flow north. Senator Joshua Miller says that in addition to lost tax revenue, the state will forego funding for substance abuse prevention and several other valuable causes.

What's more: a recent Public Policy polling survey found that 59% of the state's voters support the legalization.

Current Rhode Island Marijuana-related Criminal Laws

The state decriminalized possession of smaller amounts of marijuana in 2012. Those possessing an ounce or less are subject to a civil fine of $150. Those cited three times in a period of 18 months may face a misdemeanor criminal charge. Those under the age of 18 are subject to a $150 fine and are referred to family court for a substance abuse evaluation.

Current Rhode Island Marijuana Medical Usage Laws

In 2009, the state began permitting usage of medical marijuana and has three “compassion centers” or dispensaries. Patients may register for eligibility with certification from a doctor for treatment of the following:

  • Cancer
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Glaucoma
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
  • Hepatitis C
  • Chronic conditions that produce the following:
    • Severe pain
    • Cachexia
    • Nausea
    • Seizures
    • Muscle Spasms

Those registered may grow up to 12 plants with proper validation through the Department of Business Regulation.

Opposition to Legalization for Recreational Purposes

Though they are in the minority, some Rhode Island residents oppose legalization of marijuana for recreational use for a wide range of reasons. Representative Dennis Canario, for one, says he has seen the harm caused when users operate a vehicle under the influence. He wants to determine the initial costs the state would incur for regulation and taxation. He expressed uncertainty about whether the positives outweigh the negatives.

Other notable Rhode Island public figures oppose legalization, too. For instance, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy feels that many advocates are “money hungry” executives resembling those of “big tobacco.” Peter Neronha, a former Rhode Island U.S. Attorney, feels marijuana usage has a negative impact on young minds that are still in development, making them less productive.

To complicate matters, at the federal level, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed his intent to enforce federal laws that prohibit marijuana.

Marijuana Laws in Other States

Approximately 29 states allow medical marijuana and eight allow adult possession for recreational purposes. Both Maine and Vermont recently approved initiatives for full legalization; however, Vermont's Governor vetoed the bill amid concerns regarding highway safety.

Change Must Start with the Legislature, Not the Citizens

Many states in the United States offer a ballot referendum process that allows citizens to initiate new laws. Rhode Island, unfortunately, has no such process. We must wait for our representatives to get it together and pass reasonable, relevant legislation consistent with the times. Until then, we'll forego the benefits some of our neighbors are enjoying. Our hope lies in the special legislative committee established to inquire into legalization, which is expected to release a report on their work in March 2018.

About the Author

Ken Barrett

Attorney Kensley Barrett is a skilled criminal defense lawyer with a proven track record in handling a wide range of cases in Rhode Island. Known for his strong background in trial advocacy and negotiation, Barrett is dedicated to providing personalized and effective representation for his clients. Recognized as a "Rising Star" by Super Lawyers and with a 10.0 "Superb" rating on Avvo, he consistently achieves successful outcomes, including acquittals, dismissals, and reduced charges.


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Kensley Barrett

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