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Rhode Island Republican House Leader Embraces Marijuana Legalization

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The Republican leader in Rhode Island’s House of Representatives thinks the state should fully legalize marijuana.

But while that news would typically bode well for reform efforts in state legislatures, the problem is that the Democratic speaker isn’t quite on board—and the House is dominantly controlled by Democrats.

In an interview with The Public’s Radio on Friday, Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R) was asked to weigh in on Massachusetts’s newly implemented adult-use cannabis program and said straightaway that he believes “it should be legal.” However, anyone caught selling marijuana to kids should be sent to jail, he added.

“It’s very encouraging to see this kind of public and unhesitating support for legalizing marijuana from the House GOP leader on an issue that virtually all Rhode Island progressives are already behind,” Jared Moffat, Rhode Island political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “That kind of bi-partisan support is what we need to get a bill through in 2019.”

Filippi also said in the radio interview that problems with traffic congestion in Massachusetts cities, where only two dispensaries are currently operating, could have been avoided by opening 15 to 20 stores at the same time, instead of the state’s staggered approach.

“That would have alleviated many of the problems.”

On the other side of the aisle, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D) isn’t ready to embrace marijuana legalization, but last month he told WPRI 12 that he would “consider all options.

In a later email, he recognized the potential economic benefits of legalization, but said “it will also increase social costs and public safety concerns.”

“We will have to determine what the net impact would be for Rhode Island in light of the legal sales in Massachusetts and other states, and I look forward to collaborating with my House colleagues in the next legislative session and listening to the views of our citizens.”

During a debate in the run-up to this month’s midterm election, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) seemed to echo Mattiello’s concerns, saying that she’s “open” to legalization but “cautious” about it. Legal marijuana programs are “hard to regulate so it doesn’t get into the hands of kids,” she said.

For his part, Filippi’s support for legalization appears rooted in a libertarian ideology. Later in his radio interview, the lawmaker stressed the importance of championing personal liberties and limiting the role of government “in our private lives, in our homes and in our wallets.”

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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