Rhode Island state legislators say that they have sufficient support to pass a bill if it comes to a vote this spring in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. The law makers are expecting to legalize recreational marijuana soon and may beat Massachusetts on it.
Scott Slater, a Providence Democrat and legalization proponent, said taking actions this year would allow Rhode Island to have regulations and a new source of tax revenue in place before retail marijuana shops open over the border in Massachusetts. He said Rhode Island has already reinforced how they tax and regulate medical marijuana plants, so making a change to enable recreational use wouldn’t be tough.
“We’ll definitely be able to beat Massachusetts to the punch,” Slater said. He additionally said that Massachusetts appears to be delaying their recreational regulations.
Voters in Maine, Massachusetts, California and Nevada approved recreational marijuana last year, joining Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Colorado. But Massachusetts legislators have delayed the opening of marijuana stores until mid-2018 at the soonest.
In Rhode Island, legislators have debated marijuana legalization for years but haven’t voted on it yet. Having a vote would need the support of top legislative leaders, like Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. The year’s first legislative hearing on the proposal is already scheduled on Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee.
“The speaker said he’s open-minded however, and he’s waiting for the hearing,” said Slater, who recently had a dialogue with with Mattiello. “He wants the bill to be vetted in committee and hear the various views.”
According to Slater, there are still concerns surrounding a few of the details of the bill, including how it would regulate edible marijuana products.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have also expressed readiness to give it consideration. Ruggerio is officially a co-sponsor of the Senate’s marijuana legalization bill, No. 420, but said lately it needs work and that he signed on to have a “seat at the table.”
Adversaries are also taking actions, including Democratic Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. Kilmartin assembled pediatricians, police leaders and other adversaries concerned regarding the unintended effects on health and public security. Advocates for and against legalization have increased their lobbying presence in the State House this year.