The legalization of marijuana continues to expand across the nation, and this year it looks like Rhode Island might be set up to be the next state to legalize recreational cannabis. Currently, in April, Rhode Island’s State House of Representatives debated the merits of legalization in their state, and whether to bring it to a vote this spring. If it does come to a vote, representatives in favor of passing recreational marijuana say they already have the votes to do so. However, there are many factors at play in Rhode Island’s role in the marijuana debate…
Beating “Massachusetts to the punch”
During the 2016 election, Massachusetts passed a referendum that legalized recreational marijuana. However, while marijuana is legal to possess there, the state has drug its feet when it comes to allowing retail marijuana stores to to open, and it looks like it won’t happen until at least the middle of 2018. Because of this fact, Rhode Island is in a unique position to “beat Massachusetts to the punch,” as Rep. Scott Slater put it. This would grant Rhode Island a stream of revenue from Massachusetts inhabitants, and would be a boon to taxes. On top of this, a current recount in Maine has delayed their own recreational marijuana legalization. Quickly making recreational marijuana legal would mean that Rhode Island is the only state in the northeast where people could go to buy and use cannabis.
Part of a wave of legalization
Rhode Island would be just one more state to legalize both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana in a recent wave of legalization that has swept the country. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana. In 2017, there are now seven states, along with the District of Columbia, who have made recreational cannabis legal. This is on top of 19 other states that have legalized medical marijuana.
Because of the growing movement to legalize marijuana in multiple forms, Rep. Slater says that “The choice is prohibition or regulation. There really is no middle ground.” There is a lot of truth to this. As more states proceed to legalize cannabis, it is increasingly clear that people who want marijuana are going to get it (just as they always have). The choice that governments have is whether to pursue failed policies in an attempt to prevent this, or whether to embrace the tide and use regulations to gain revenue and prevent criminal business practices.