The race for the first East Coast state to legalize recreational marijuana is on. And if there’s any state that should do it, it should be the lovely but economically-slumped Rhode Island.
“I think it matters a lot,” said Jared Moffat, director of Regulate Rhode Island. “We know that whichever state goes first is going to be able to attract more businesses… it’s going to attract tourists. It’s going to be a huge windfall for whoever goes first.”
Rhode Island is already in a perfect position to commercialize pot. A poll from Public Policy Polling showed that 57 percent of Rhode Island residents support legalizing recreational marijuana. Recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health also revealed that Rhode Islanders smoke pot at a higher rate than any other state, second only to Washington, DC. It already has medical marijuana dispensaries and has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
If it beats its neighboring states in legalizing recreational weed, Rhode Island could reap serious economic rewards, lure tourists and curious masses from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, and transform downtown Providence into major marijuana retail center, pretty much like what happened in the rural Pueblo County in Colorado.
Many groups, such as the Sierra Club and the National Organization for Women, are supporting the legalization. But the business scene has been oddly silent, considering the estimates released by the Marijuana Policy Project showing that consumption by state residents alone might generate as much as $58 million in annual excise and sales tax revenue. More jobs are also bound to be created, not just in the cannabis industry but also in retail and cultivation, construction, and tourism.
In 2015, the state’s legislation failed to pass, but it stands a good chance when the legislators return. For instance, Governor Gina Raimondo has indicated a semblance of support, and Representative Scott Slater also said that he is open-minded. State House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello might be an obstacle though, as he has been reportedly “cool” about the legalization.
“Marijuana legalization is not on my agenda at this time,” Mattiello said in a statement. “We held a public hearing on the legislation this year (2015) and held it in committee for further study. I anticipate the bill will be reintroduced in the 2016 session and I will take a further look at it.”
The government certainly needs to act fast, as other states are already catching up. Massachusetts has two separate legislation initiatives vying for a spot in the November 2016 ballot, while Vermont’s efforts have garnered the support of Governor Peter Shumlin. Both Maine and Connecticut have strong campaigns underway.
“The main thing you lose if you aren’t first off the block, especially in the Northeast, is revenue,” said state Senator Josh Miller, a main sponsor of Rhode Island senate’s legislation to tax and regulate marijuana.
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