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Jared Moffat: Now is the Right Time for RI to Regulate Marijuana

Monday, February 03, 2014

 

In recent years the movement to legalize and regulate marijuana has taken off in Rhode Island. Since at least 2012, polls have consistently shown that a clear majority of Rhode Islanders supports ending marijuana prohibition. With each legislative session, the coalition of lawmakers who would rather see marijuana taxed and regulated grows in both parties.

Realizing that rising support for marijuana legalization is becoming an unstoppable force, opponents of reform are now making one last ditch attempt to stave off the inevitable, pleading “let’s wait a little longer.” With more and more people realizing that marijuana prohibition simply does not work, supporters of the status quo are trying to appeal to our fear of the unknown, saying, “But we don’t know what happens when you legalize marijuana. Let’s wait and see.”

Prohibition has not worked

We do not need to wait any longer. We have been waiting more than 90 years for marijuana prohibition to work in Rhode Island, and we have seen that it does not. Making marijuana illegal has not deterred use or reduced supply. It has, however, distracted law enforcement resources from serious crime, disproportionately funneled thousands of people, mostly young men of color, into the criminal justice system, and profited criminal organizations by creating a lucrative illegal market. Allowing marijuana prohibition to continue, when we know it has proven to be a destructive and wasteful policy, would be foolish. This 2014 legislative session is the perfect time for Rhode Island to end the failed policy of prohibition and regulate marijuana like alcohol with a system of licenses, taxes, and age restrictions.

The abysmal track record of marijuana prohibition alone is enough to motivate us to take a new approach. But another problem with the “wait and see” objection is that we already are seeing what happens when you end prohibition and regulate marijuana responsibly. More than a year after Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for adults, the sky has not fallen as anti-legalization activists claimed it would.

While opponents said that regulating marijuana like alcohol would “send the wrong message to teenagers”, teens are apparently not listening. Though the marijuana issue received a great deal of attention during 2013, national marijuana usage rates among teenagers remained flat compared to 2011 and 2012 ( Monitoring the Future data, 2013). As the first state to allow legal sales of marijuana to adults, the only changes Colorado has seen are a lot fewer arrests for marijuana crimes, huge tax revenue increases, and an explosion of new businesses and middle class jobs.

Federal interference no longer an issue

For states considering marijuana legalization, interference from the federal government is no longer a concern. In August of last year, the Department of Justice gave a qualified green light for Colorado, Washington, and other states to proceed with implementing the will of their voters to regulate marijuana like alcohol. In a recent interview with The New Yorker, President Obama said, “It’s important for [marijuana legalization] to go forward”. And in another important move, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced plans to restructure federal statutes to allow legal marijuana businesses to access crucial banking services.

Most politicos and pundits agree that marijuana legalization on a national scale is inevitable. Early adopter states like Colorado and Washington will enjoy a significant economic advantage over latecomers. Marijuana businesses and entrepreneurs will naturally look to headquarter their operations in the states that legalize marijuana first, giving those states a much larger piece of the soon-to-be-legal $100 billion dollar marijuana industry.

An economic opportunity for Rhode Island

This legislative session, lawmakers have an opportunity to make Rhode Island the first state on the East Coast to legalize and regulate marijuana. If we do, Rhode Island businesses will have a significant head start advantage in the regional economy when states like Massachusetts and Connecticut legalize marijuana later on. Rhode Island businesses will expand into neighboring states, rather than the reverse.

Last year Rhode Island decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, because the vast majority of Rhode Islanders believes that marijuana users should not be labeled as criminals. If we agree that users are not criminals, why are we forcing them to buy marijuana from criminals in an illegal market? Why would we allow those sales to go unregulated and untaxed?

It does not take a lot of creativity to imagine what legalization look like in Rhode Island. Our medical marijuana dispensaries already provide a practical example of how legal marijuana businesses would operate.

Two things are clear: marijuana prohibition is coming to an end and Rhode Island needs to find revenue now. Rhode Island faces a $150 million budget shortfall, and Governor Chafee has proposed $43 million in cuts to Medicaid. Waiting will simply delay the collection of tens of millions of dollars in revenue that Rhode Island needs now. It makes sense for Rhode Island to legalize marijuana this year.

Jared Moffat is the director of Regulate Rhode Island (www.RegulateRI.com), a broad-based coalition of citizens and organizations dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition in the Ocean State. A recent graduate from Brown University, Jared has been working to reform Rhode Island's drug laws for five years and hopes to pursue a career in public policy.


Related Slideshow:
Marijuana Use in the New England States

According to data collected by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, New Englanders are among the nation's top marijuana users in the country.  See how the indivdual states compare in the slides below:

Prev Next

6. Maine

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 12.45%

National Rank: 13th most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (2.5 ounces or less)

Prev Next

5. Connecticut

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 12.50%

National Rank: 12th most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (less than 0.5 ounce)

Prev Next

4. Massachusetts

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.19%

National Rank: 5th most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)

Prev Next

3. New Hampshire

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.60%

National Rank: 4th most

Possession Laws: Medical Use Only

Prev Next

2. Rhode Island

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.85%

National Rank: 3rd most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)

Prev Next

1. Vermont

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.90%

National Rank: 2nd most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)

 
 

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Comments:

Odd Job

ever have any non Brownies writing?

Christopher Lee

Wait until corporate America gets into the pot selling business and starts sophisticated media efforts to market pot. Like alcohol and cigarettes, pot will become a huge problem in society, which would not be a problem if society were not forced to ameliorate its effects through higher taxes and healthcare costs, etc.

If you want to drink or smoke yourself to a low quality of life and premature death, fine, but do not expect me to pay for the consequences.

Prohibition works. Eliminate the prohibition, prices will plunge, availability – particularly to our youth – will increase, and we will get more pot smoking with its attendant social costs.

Dusty Relic

Jared, you are absolutely right. Prohibition has had almost a century to prove itself and prove itself it has -- as a failure!

I see that many people, such as @Christoper Lee, are unfamiliar with the issue and thus base their opinions on fear, uncertainty, and doubt. But there have never been any negative health consequences shown for regular marijuana users -- something you simply cannot say about alcohol or tobacco. And right now taxpayers like @Christopher Lee are ALREADY paying for the consequences, and paying dearly. We are forced to import huge numbers of illegal aliens to do the work that our young people cannot do because they are in jail, we are forced to pay for prisons and court systems and multiple police agencies, we are forced to watch our love ones suffer in pain because we are too superstitious to allow them access to one of the gentlest and most versatile medicines known to man.

The only question we need to ask ourselves is would a legal, regulated market in cannabis be more or less harmful than the criminal market. It is quite clear that it would be less harmful so the wise choice as well as the most compassionate choice is to legalize.

John Onamas

Some aspects of legalization can and should be acted upon immediately. Legalizing the "Charlotte's Web" strain will help countless children. See more here: http://denver.cbslocal.com/2014/01/23/medical-marijuana-strain-has-hundreds-of-parents-flocking-to-colorado/

Christopher Lee

@Dusty Relic. Are you suggesting marijuana use is good for you? Like drinking water or eating a pear? If it is so good, why not let your children have it? Marijuana is not as bad as tobacco or alcohol - is that your best argument?

Getting “high” and feeling groovy is not the standard by which we assess drug safety and effectiveness. If “'tune in, turn on, and drop out” were the drug efficacy standard, then using heroin to combat a headache would be permissible. But it is not. Drugs must be proven through science to be safe and effective, a standard marijuana has not met. Just because a drug makes you feel good does not make it safe and effective.

Wuggly Ump

Prohibition creates a black market, even prohibitive taxes on cigarettes has given smuggling a home here in RI.
No one is saying it's good for you, neither is tobacco, alcohol, hard candy or fish and chips. These are choices adults can make, not bureaucrats and politicians.




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