PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — Activists are hoping the new Raimondo administration focused on creating jobs in Rhode Island will see the legalization of marijuana as an opportunity to do exactly that.
Jared Moffat, who heads Regulate Rhode Island, said Thursday a system to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol would create hundreds of jobs in the state and bring in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue.
"We think the jobs aspect is a huge selling point," Moffat said. "All of the state's leaders have emphasized job creation so that's definitely the angle we want to take."
Gov. Gina Raimondo, who became the state's first female governor in January, has repeatedly said creating jobs is a top priority. Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger said the governor believes if there's a way to legalize marijuana with proper regulations so Rhode Islanders don't get hurt, then it's something lawmakers should look at and get right for the state.
House and Senate bills to end the state's marijuana prohibition have been introduced.
The bills propose allowing adults, age 21 or older, to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow one mature marijuana plant in an enclosed, locked space. The state Department of Business Regulation would create requirements for security, labeling, health and safety.
Recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska, Colorado and Washington state. In February, the District of Columbia became the first place east of the Mississippi River where pot is legal.
Sen. Joshua Miller, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said the prohibition against marijuana is an "ineffective and wasteful policy" and the state can't afford to ignore it any longer. Rep. Scott Slater is the House sponsor. Both are Democrats.
A press conference Thursday to discuss the bills was interrupted by some demonstrators who support legalization but objected to the speakers using the word marijuana. They said the word is offensive and the proper term is cannabis. Slater began using the word "cannabis" instead.
The proposal will be a tough sell for some lawmakers this year after a similar measure stalled last year.
Democratic Sen. Louis DiPalma said it's the wrong policy because marijuana can act as a gateway drug and legalizing it could lead to wider use among adolescents. DiPalma said he can't wait to say no.
House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, a Republican, supports legalization. Newberry said he doesn't think marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol and decriminalizing it would free up police and other resources. The records of too many young people have been ruined with a marijuana charge, he added.
Both Newberry said Rhode Island should legalize marijuana this session, before any other New England state, to reap the economic benefits.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat, said that he would keep an open mind but that legalizing marijuana is not an item on his agenda this session.
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