Four New England states – Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine – are poised to enact measures to regulate marijuana like alcohol in the next two years. The big question is, which state will do it first?
The editorial board at The Providence Journal does not want it to be Lil Rhody.
According to them, adults who responsibly use marijuana should continue to be labeled as lawbreakers because marijuana inexorably leads to the “general rot” of society (“Put pot on hold,” Jan. 6). Fortunately, not all of our newly elected state leaders share The Providence Journal’s antiquated views. Governor Raimondo, for example, recently argued that, “[legalizing marijuana] is absolutely something we should evaluate, because if we think it’s inevitable, and if there’s a way to do it that is properly regulated so people don’t get hurt, then it’s something we should look at.”
Polls show that a majority of Rhode Islanders — and Americans — agree with Governor Raimondo and think it is time to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition. Last year 29 members in the house of representative and 13 members of the state senate signed onto the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act. This year the bi-partisan coalition of legislators backing the bill is expected to grow even larger. At committee hearings last year, few legislators expressed staunch opposition to the legislation. Most of the hesitation came from those who suggested that we hold off another year to study the issue.
The “wait and see” argument, however, will be far less effective in 2015. We now have more than a year’s worth of data on Colorado’s experiment with allowing adults to purchase marijuana from tightly regulated, licensed stores. We no longer need to speculate: it is clear that the sky does not fall when you treat marijuana like alcohol. Neutral observers like the New York Times and the Brookings Institute have deemed Colorado’s rollout a success, and even Governor Hickenlooper, who initially opposed Amendment 64 in 2012, recently said this on CBS’s 60 Minutes:
“[A]fter the election [in 2012], if I’d had a magic wand and I could wave the wand, I probably would’ve reversed it and had the initiative fail. But now I look at it…and I think we’ve made a lot of progress…still a lot of work to be done. But I think we might actually create a system that can work.”
We don’t have to go west to know that regulating marijuana works. Here in our own backyard, state-licensed compassion centers, which have provided medical marijuana to registered patients for nearly two years, are running smoothly, giving back to the community, and creating jobs for local residents.
The notion that we should “wait and see” is wrongheaded for many reasons, but it is particularly foolish if the state hopes to reap any economic benefits from regulating and taxing marijuana. Massachusetts is very likely to approve a ballot initiative to make marijuana legal for adults in 2016. If Rhode Island does not get the ball rolling this year, we will lose a tremendous opportunity to attract new businesses to our state and take home a larger share of the economic pie.
A resurrected specter of “reefer madness” is the only thing holding us back. Ignoring the clear scientific evidence that marijuana is much safer than alcohol, opponents of regulating marijuana are forced to rely on fear tactics and sparse anecdotes to make a boogeyman out of marijuana
In truth, however, the vast majority of adults who use marijuana are responsible, tax-paying citizens who ask only that they not be automatically treated as lawbreakers. Just as some adults enjoy the occasional weekend cocktail, or a beer after work, others prefer to relax and socialize with marijuana. Every objective, scientific study has confirmed that marijuana is far less harmful to the individual and society than alcohol. So if we don’t have an issue with adults who responsibly consume alcohol, why should we have a problem with adults who responsibly consume marijuana?
As with any piece of legislation, the ultimate fate of the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act will depend mostly on how vigorously our allies in the General Assembly push for its passage. Those of us who live in districts with unsupportive legislators must make the case and show them that their constituents support the bill. Those of us who live in districts with supportive legislators must be unrelenting in asking these allies to make the issue a top priority for 2015.
Ultimately, whether Rhode Island becomes the first state to regulate marijuana on the East Coast is up to us. I hope you will join me and the rest of the Regulate Rhode Island coalition in the fight.