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Metro, News

Raimondo proposes marijuana legalization in R.I.

Governor shifts position in response to changes in surrounding states, sparks mixed response

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2019

In a $9.9 billion state budget plan released last Thursday, Gov. Gina Raimondo proposed to legalize recreational adult-use marijuana.

Taxes from medical and recreational marijuana constitute $6.5 million of the planned budget. Long opposed to legalizing marijuana, Raimondo has now changed her position. “I have some reluctance about it. But I think we can’t not do it with Massachusetts and Connecticut coming online. Like it or not, it’s here,” Raimondo told The Boston Globe.

Last Sunday, a recreational marijuana retail store opened in Fall River, Mass., just several hundred feet from the border with Rhode Island, according to Fall River’s Herald News. “That means that it’s going to be sold to Rhode Islanders,” State Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, told The Herald. “Whatever problems are associated with that sale to Rhode Islanders, Rhode Island’s not going to collect any other taxes” which could remediate those issues, she added.

State legislators will take months to finalize the state’s fiscal year 2020 budget. If the proposal to legalize marijuana moves forward, legislators will take even more time to fine-tune the details of legalization. For developing policy, “it would make sense to somewhat follow Massachusetts’ lead since they are right over the border,” Ajello said.

With legalization, “the profitability would go out of the sale of marijuana for drug dealers,” Ajello said, adding, “the drug market would dry up. And I think that’s the way we more successfully keep marijuana and other drugs away from kids.”

Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences and of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Jane Metrik studies the behavioral economics of marijuana use. Her research, recently published in the scientific journal “Addiction,” suggests that marijuana users “treat legal cannabis as a superior commodity compared to illegal cannabis as long as the price of the legal product is not too high.”

“Pricing policy (including taxation) will need to be optimized in order to avoid users switching to illegal markets and to allow for proper regulation of a legal marketplace,” Metrik wrote in an email to The Herald. “Legalization of marijuana will certainly … contribute to increases in marijuana use and misuse among youth,” she added.

The impact of legalization could vary by community. In states that have legalized marijuana, “retail stores are often concentrated in neighborhoods that are socio-economically disadvantaged,” Metrik wrote. “Therefore, one unintended consequence of state-wide legalization could be an increase in cannabis use in marginalized groups due to variability in regulations across local communities and bans on retail operations in more affluent neighborhoods.”

While the debate continues in Rhode Island, the University does not plan to change its policies on marijuana use because it receives federal funding and must abide by federal laws. “We anticipate no significant shift in Brown policy — regardless of whether state law changes, marijuana remains illegal under federal law,” wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald. “Even if state law changes, Brown expects to continue to prohibit illicit drug activity, including marijuana use, by students, on our campus or as part of any Brown activity.”

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