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Spotlight on the Statehouse: March 10, 2015

Marijuana legalization bills introduced in Rhode Island

Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, Providence, and Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, introduced identical bills last week that would make the possession, growth and sale of marijuana legal in Rhode Island. The drug would be taxed at a rate of 10 percent and would be regulated in various ways: Individuals would not be able to carry more than one ounce or grow more than two marijuana plants, and dispensaries would be subject to random quality testing. If the legislation is passed, Rhode Island will join four states and the District of Columbia as locations in the United States with full legalization.

A 2014 poll shows that 53 percent of Rhode Islanders support the measure, and both parties have members co-sponsoring each of the bills. Former Republican candidate for Providence mayor and licensed psychiatrist Daniel Harrop ’76 MD’79 has openly offered to support the measure under his medical expertise.

Gov. Gina Raimondo is adopting a “wait-and-see approach” on the matter, while Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, said he has “no opinion on marijuana other than I know it’s an issue that will come up and we’ll consider it,” RI Future reported. But Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, said she remains “concerned about the potential health effects” of marijuana.

In an op-ed last Thursday, Slater discussed his reasoning for the legislation, namely the inevitability of marijuana’s usage, the revenue that legalization could create for the state and the elimination of gang involvement in the marijuana industry. “Just as Al Capone’s gangsters are no longer engaging in shootouts over turf because of alcohol, in time the illicit marijuana market will evaporate, as customers prefer a safer product in a safer setting,” he wrote. OpenDoors, an advocacy group that supports the formerly incarcerated in Rhode Island, reported last week that legalization of the drug could create $21.5 to $82 million in tax revenue for Rhode Island, RI Future reported.

Former Olympic medalist Kwan named to R.I. arts council

Gov. Gina Raimondo nominated four new members to the Rhode Island Council of the Arts Thursday, among them five-time world champion figure skater Michelle Kwan. The five names have been submitted to the Senate for final approval.

“The arts influence Rhode Island’s rich culture, and I look forward to collaborating with members of the council on ways to promote and enhance our cultural footprint,” Kwan said in a statement reported by Providence Business News. Kwan helped campaign for her husband Clay Pell in the 2014 R.I. gubernatorial election, Politico reported. She is also currently a senior advisor for public diplomacy and public affairs at the U.S. Department of State, PBN reported.

Campaign finance reform introduced following allegations about Shark bar, Gordon Fox

House Majority Leader John DeSimone, D-Providence, submitted a bill March 5 that would mandate that candidates and political action committees file bank statements from their campaign accounts following each quarterly campaign finance report given to the Board of Elections. Former House Speaker Gordon Fox pleaded guilty to transferring $108,000 in campaign contributions to his own personal accounts, The Herald previously reported.

“Every time something like this happens, it distracts from the good work everyone in the General Assembly is trying to do day in and day out,” DeSimone said in a R.I. General Assembly press release. The nonpartisan advocacy group Common Cause denounced the legislation, arguing that it does not go far enough to curb corruption in Rhode Island. Common Cause leader John Marion wants to see “a stronger mandate and more resources” for the Board of Elections, Rhode Island Public Radio reported.

Vehicular violations revisited

Rhode Island senators brought a wide variety of bills aimed at changing driving-related penalties to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Various driving violations will have more severe punishments if their respective bills pass: leaving the scene of an accident, using cellular devices, driving without vehicle ownership information and impaired driving that results in the injury or death of someone other than the driver, among others.

Under another bill, the period of time under which a second or third offense conviction for driving under the influence is applicable would be extended from five to 10 years. Two other bills also look to lessen the severity of punishment for driving with a suspended or expired license in the state, downgrading it to a civil violation.



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