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Top Rhode Island Lawmakers Are Coming To Terms With Marijuana Legalization

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Given that Rhode Island will soon be surrounded by states that have fully legalized marijuana, its governor now says she’s “not sure at this point it is practical to say we’re not going to legalize and regulate.”

While Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) isn’t especially enthusiastic about the prospect, she told The Public’s Radio on Thursday that she’s “more open to it” than she ever has been.

“It’s something that I have resisted, mainly because I have worried—I’ve watched very carefully what’s gone on in Colorado and other states,” Raimondo said. “As the mother of a teenager and a middle schooler, I want to make sure we can keep everybody safe.”

“Having said that, we are a tiny island sitting in-between Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the reality is I’m not sure at this point it is practical to say we’re not going to legalize and regulate. I don’t know what we are going to do next year. I’m still trying to figure it out now, but I’m more open to it than I ever have been.”

In an earlier interview, the governor recently hinted that Rhode Island was effectively being peer-pressured into adopting a legal marijuana system by its neighbors.

Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D) likewise said he’s cognizant of the evolving political landscape in the region when it comes to cannabis reform. In a separate appearance on The Public’s Radio, the top lawmaker didn’t commit to tackling the issue immediately in the next legislative session, but he said the state can “do a better job looking at models that are already in existence such as Colorado or other states” to inform Rhode Island’s approach.

“I think we have to study it and then decide what we want to do as a state, but I am mindful that Massachusetts has legalized it, I believe Connecticut is going to legalize it,” he said in his year-end interview with the radio station. “I think we’re probably going to end up with more social costs without the revenues and that would probably be the worst situation of all.”

“We’ll take a good look at it in light of what’s happening around us and we’ll come up with a conclusion after collaborating with all my colleagues and the citizens of the state. This is not a decision I’m going to make. I’m open. I recognize the issues, I know the issues. But we’ll make the decision together.”

Interestingly, the top Republican in the state House said last month that cannabis “should be legal.” But the chamber remains dominantly controlled by Democrats.

All that said, Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) told The Public’s Radio this week that he’s “not optimistic” about the chances the state legalizes in 2019. Though he co-sponsored an earlier legalization bill, the senator remains apprehensive about the issue. He stressed the need to address impaired driving and “toxicity” in any reform legislation.

“While I continue to keep an open mind on legalization of recreational marijuana as the state looks into the regulatory and workforce challenges that come along with it, I also have significant concerns, particularly with regard to workforce issues, enforcement around edibles, and impact on children,” Ruggerio said in a separate statement in November.

Rhode Island Might Be Peer Pressured Into Legalizing Marijuana By Neighbors, Governor Hints

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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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