This op-ed comes from Senator Miller and Representative Slater

“The dominos of marijuana prohibition are falling in New England, and the time is ripe for us to act in Rhode Island. We should enact legislation to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use in the upcoming legislative session, not simply because Massachusetts and Maine voters approved similar laws, but because it will make Rhode Island a healthier, safer and more vibrant place to live.

We must recognize that Rhode Island’s current policy — which keeps non-medical marijuana sales in the illicit market — is costly, ineffective, and harmful. Over the past several decades, we have wasted precious law enforcement resources and have punished thousands of Rhode Islanders — disproportionately people of color — for using marijuana. And yet, the illicit marijuana market remains rooted in place. We need a smarter approach.

We recognize that there are many important questions and concerns about creating a legal market for adult marijuana use. That is why we have thoroughly studied this issue over the past several years and sought to integrate the lessons learned from other states into our legislation. Additionally, with input from medical professionals, local law enforcement officials and community leaders, we have crafted a proposal tailored to the unique needs of Rhode Island. Our primary goal has been to find common ground for stakeholders on all sides of this issue.

For example, under our proposed legislation edible marijuana products will only be permitted for sale after they have been reviewed and approved by a marijuana product review board comprised of public health experts.

Driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal, and a portion of tax revenue raised from marijuana will be made available to train more of our police officers to recognize impaired drivers. Packaging, labeling and advertising of marijuana products will be tightly restricted to minimize access and exposure to young people.

Local municipalities will be given significant control over where and how marijuana establishments operate in their city or town. Our legislation will allow local citizens, by a simple majority vote, to ban marijuana establishments from their municipality altogether.

Next year is the ideal time for Rhode Island to move forward. As our state continues to see a slower economic recovery than our neighbors, we cannot ignore the job-creating benefits of gaining a foothold in an emerging market. Moreover, adopting legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in 2017 will allow us to put additional tax revenue to good use sooner. Delaying passage will only make budget decisions more difficult in coming years and give us less flexibility to pursue important initiatives like rebuilding our schools, rolling back taxes that harm working families, and providing more substance abuse treatment services.

To be clear, new jobs and tax revenue are not our primary motivations. Improving public health and safety by replacing an illicit market with a responsibly regulated legal market is our goal. In a regulated market, consumers know what they are getting and do not have to worry about dangerous pesticide levels or laced products.

Workers in a regulated marijuana economy are not vulnerable to exploitation and have protections like social security and unemployment insurance. Communities also benefit from sales being moved from the streets into a regulated market made up of legitimate tax-paying businesses — not gangs and cartels.

There is broad consensus that Rhode Island should take this step forward. Polls show that a majority of Rhode Islanders supports regulating marijuana for adult use.

We can and should act in 2017 to realize these health and safety benefits and to ensure we do not lose millions of dollars in annual tax revenue and hundreds of jobs to our neighboring states.

Although we believe we have drafted a thoughtful proposal, the process of discussion and debate in the upcoming legislative session will be crucial to refining and strengthening the bill. We wholeheartedly agree with Governor Raimondo that it is important to get this right, and we are confident we can do so in 2017. We look forward to discussing this important issue with constituents, the governor’s office and our colleagues in the General Assembly in the coming months.”

– State Senator Josh Miller, District 28 (Cranston, Providence)
– State Representative Scott Slater, District 10 (Providence)

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