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R.I. needs marijuana reform

Kaicie Boeglin

Opinions Editor

Photo via the Green Fund

Marijuana reform, as seen in Colorado and Massachusetts, could boost the economy. Rhode Island is finally on track with this notion and lawmakers are talking about a plan sometime in 2021. Former Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed action plan retained most of the profit for the state. However, dispensaries, also known as compassion centers, are struggling to open with fees and taxes required by the state.

Rhode Island imposes the harshest charge for a dispensary license at $500,000. Now with Raimondo out of the picture it is questioned whether or not reform can begin. In 2019, a budget allowance tripled the number of compassion center licenses from three to nine. However, this budget mandated that no less than nine compassion centers were to be open by the end of 2019. It has been just shy of two years since this budget was passed and still only three are open due to such a harsh start and licensing fees.

Recreationalized marijuana for Rhode Island would mean more jobs, a boosted economy, reduced street dealing as well as reduced arrest rate. The Marijuana Policy Project has been following the congressional status for all states and says this for R.I.; “Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has directed Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey along with longtime legalization champion Sen. Josh Miller to lead the efforts to draft legalization legislation. On the House side, the new Speaker, Rep. Joseph Shekarchi, has indicated openness to legalization and indicated that there may be a task force established to develop policy proposals.”

A lottery system has been set in place to award six new dispensary licenses out of 28 prospective candidates. This is a blessing to those with medical cards as the lines will be shorter and customers can better adhere to the six-foot rule. Adult usage of marijuana rises every year and so does narcotic arrests and citations. If the state reforms, even under a proposed state-run plan narcotic arrest rates will deplete and more money will be brought back to the state. More space will open in the ACI and the R.I. prison system as legal adults and medical patients would be able to possess up to an ounce without penalty. According to the MPP anyone currently without a medical card is to be fined for any “possession of an ounce or less of marijuana [which] is a civil penalty punishable by a citation of $150 for the first offense.”

Rhode Islanders of legal age can simply drive to Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine or New Jersey to get recreationalized products. During this pandemic it would be safer for Rhodies to get their products directly from their home state. Now is the time for Rhode Island to implement marijuna reform, which should include lower licensing fees for compassion centers, rules for home cultivation and state wide recreation.

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