Advocates Slam Rhode Island Marijuana Study Bill, Won’t Participate in Commission

Regulate Rhode Island

(photo: Regulate Rhode Island via Facebook)

H 5551, which is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, calls for a study commission that includes representatives of the NAACP, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, but those organizations are ‘not interested in helping lawmakers once again avoid a vote on legalization’

PROVIDENCE, RI — The Regulate Rhode Island coalition says its members will not participate in the marijuana study commission that would be created by H 5551, calling it a “flawed delay tactic” on the part of legislative leaders.

Instead, they are urging lawmakers to hold a vote on a compromise approach that would make marijuana legal for adults beginning in July 2018 and establish an advisory board to make recommendations for regulating and taxing marijuana in Rhode Island.

The most recent version of H 5551, which is scheduled for a vote in the House on Wednesday, names several members to the proposed 22-person study commission, including, “the President of the Rhode Island Chapter of the NAACP, or designee,” “the Director of the local chapter of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), or designee,” and “a local representative of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), to be appointed by the Board President of the DFCR.”

All three organizations are part of the Regulate Rhode Island coalition, and will not participate in the commission if H 5551 is enacted because they are “not interested in helping lawmakers once again avoid a vote on legalization,” according to a statement issued by Regulate Rhode Island.

Instead, Regulate Rhode Island is continuing to call on House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio to allow legislators to vote on a compromise proposal that was announced last week by Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Scott Slater.

It would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older on July 1, 2018 and establish an advisory board to draft a report with recommendations for how to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adult use.

“The proposed study commission is not a good faith effort to analyze the issue, it is a flawed delay tactic,” said Jared Moffat, director of Regulate Rhode Island. “It would engage in the same legalization debate that has already taken place during the legislative process. It is not intended to find a solution to Rhode Island’s marijuana prohibition problem; it is intended to avoid one. The only people who benefit from delaying legalization — which is what this study commission would do — are the illegal dealers who are currently profiting from selling marijuana.

“Regulate Rhode Island’s members will not participate in the study commission because we are not interested in helping lawmakers once again avoid a vote on legalization. Sen. Miller and Rep. Slater have proposed a very reasonable compromise that deserves an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate this year. Rhode Islanders deserve to know where their elected officials stand on this issue. We call on House Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio to stop stalling and allow our legislators to vote on legalization,” Moffat added.

“I appreciate the thought of including the NAACP in the study commission, but I cannot participate in and thereby legitimize this flawed process,” said Jim Vincent, president of the Rhode Island chapter of the NAACP. “The residents of our state have expressed their desire to see marijuana legalized, and it is the legislature’s job to decide on whether we should move forward or not. Leaving that question up to a 22-person study commission after several years of public debate has already taken place is inappropriate.”

“I don’t understand why the General Assembly refuses to vote on a bill to legalize marijuana,” says Dr. James Crowley, co-chair of Regulate Rhode Island and a spokesperson for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. “DFCR cannot see the value of being part of a study commission that appears intended to slow down the process by repeating the tired anti-legalization arguments that are contradicted by medical evidence. From the physicians’ perspective, legalization is a no-brainer.”

“The war on drugs has decimated communities of color. Today’s politicians should be championing policies that correct this, not resisting them. I hope voters remember who they were come November 2018,” added Fred Ordoñez, executive director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality.

“This eight month long, 22-member study commission will only delay efforts to reform Rhode Island’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition, said Matthew Schweich, director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It is hard to believe that a study commission could provide helpful recommendations on how to implement a policy of legalizing and regulating marijuana when that same study commission cannot agree on whether the policy should even exist. That is the fundamental problem with this bill and the reason why many consider it a stall tactic. Given that a strong majority of Rhode Islanders supports legalization, the General Assembly should set aside the study commission and hold a vote on the compromise bill before the end of the session.”

Regulating and taxing marijuana in Rhode Island could generate up to $50 million in new tax revenue for the state.

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