PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A push to regulate and tax marijuana in Rhode Island has ramped up this year, as other New England states consider it.
“I think the reality is that if Massachusetts moves forward on this issue before Rhode Island does, there will be stores along the border, customers will cross the border and spend their money in Massachusetts,” said Jared Moffat of Regulate Rhode Island.
Massachusetts is considering placing a referendum to tax and regulate marijuana on this year’s November ballot.
The bill being considered in Rhode Island would legalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults over 21. Those adults would be able to grow up to two plants of their own, and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. The bill would ban the use of the drug in public, in moving vehicles, and would punish drivers who are under the influence.
Moffat and other supporters plan on testifying at a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday. They held a news conference earlier in the day touting the economic impacts of the legalization bill on the table, including tax revenue.
The bill calls for a 50 dollar-per-ounce excise tax for marijuana cultivators and a 10% sales tax for consumers. It would create state-issued licenses for 40 marijuana retailers.
“That could employ 50 or so people [each], you do the math and see that it comes out to a couple thousand,” Moffat said of the job possibilities.
Representative Patricia Morgan said she doesn’t believe those economic benefits are enough.
“I don’t think you ever make state policy based on how much revenue the state is going to get,” said Morgan, R-Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick.
She said she wants to wait and see how other states regulate pot.
“There’s plenty of other states that are experimenting in this. We’re going to know within a reasonable amount of time whether there is more societal cost than benefit. That’s when we should act.”
Rhode Island native Fred Joyal said waiting too long would hurt the state, as businesses are preparing to set up shop in whichever state legalizes first.
“I would hate to see Rhode Island fall behind in this opportunity,” he said.
The Rhode Island State Police, led by Col. Steven O’Donnell, oppose the legislation.
“We’re suggesting that the state take a more deliberate approach to first address the inadequacies of the current medical marijuana program, in establishing an effective regulatory framework for safeguarding public health and safety,” O’Donnell said.
Other bills being considered by the committee Tuesday include:
- A bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder as a ‘debilitating medical condition’ and accelerate an approved medical marijuana application for hospice care.
- A bill that would increase the number of permits for medical marijuana compassion centers in the state from three to six.
Supporters of the drug are also pushing for a bill that would prohibit employers from denying employment or otherwise discriminating against medical marijuana patients.
Rhode Island lawmakers have considered various versions of marijuana legalization bills in the past four years; none have gained any traction.
Rosie Woods contributed to this report.