source: By W. Zachary Malinowski Journal Staff Writer [email protected]

It appears that Governor Chafee may be warming to the concept of legalizing and regulating marijuana in Rhode Island as a potential source of tax revenue.

Over the weekend, Chafee, a Democrat, attended the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C., and listened to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, talk about the legalization of marijuana in his state that is expected to generate more than $100 million in taxes and regulatory fees this year.

Hickenlooper had been an opponent of legalization, but state voters approved it in a 2012 referendum.

Chafee told a reporter from Bloomberg News that Colorado’s fiscal forecast “opened a lot of eyes” and has fostered a discussion on whether to “regulate and tax it in these tough times.”
Should Rhode Island legalize and regulate marijuana? (14,661 votes)
View results

Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized and regulated marijuana sales for those at least 21 years old. Rhode Island is one of 20 states and the District of Columbia with medical marijuana laws that permit use of the drug by patients suffering from chronic pain and other ailments.

Only those patients approved by the state are allowed to buy the drug in Rhode Island from two dispensaries, or from caregivers, those allowed by the state to grow up to 24 marijuana plants and provide the cannabis to as many as five patients.

There are about 7,000 patients in the Rhode Island medical marijuana program and more than 5,000 caregivers.

Chafee told the Bloomberg News reporter that he would not rule out signing legislation that calls for the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Rhode Island’s economy has been struggling for several years, and the nation’s smallest state has the highest unemployment rate — 9.1 percent.

“We’ll see how these bills come out of the legislature,” he said.

Chafee, through his spokeswoman, Faye Zuckerman, issued a statement on Monday: “The legislation to legalize marijuana is currently winding its way through the General Assembly. If it were to reach his desk, the governor would evaluate it at that time.”

Jared Moffat, a Brown student and representative of Regulate Rhode Island, was pleased with Chafee’s position.

“We are encouraged that Governor Chafee understands the failures of the war on drugs and has an open mind to regulate marijuana as Colorado and Washington have done,” he said.

Chafee’s comments come less than two weeks after Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, and Rep. Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, introduced legislation that would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to two plants in a locked space. They also said that the state should allow no more than 10 stores to sell the drug.

Revenues would be generated by taxes and a $50-per-ounce fee on the wholesale sale of marijuana from the cultivation site to a retailer. The stores would be taxed 10 percent on marijuana sales.

“Marijuana prohibition has been a long-term failure,” said Miller in a statement. “Regulating marijuana would allow the product to be sold safely and responsibly by legitimate business in appropriate locations.”

“Most Rhode Island voters agree it is time to end marijuana prohibition and start treating the product like alcohol,” Ajello said. “Taxing marijuana sales will generate tens of millions of dollars in much-needed revenue for the state, a portion of which will be directed towards programs that treat and prevent alcohol and other substance abuse.”

As more states have approved the sale of medical marijuana and legalization has taken hold in two states, the drug has seemingly become less controversial. Chafee’s position also is quite a turnaround from his position three years ago when he delayed the opening of the state’s marijuana dispensaries. He was fearful that the federal authorities mightraid them and arrest anyone affiliated with the businesses.

Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug in the same classification as heroin and LSD and is illegal under federal law. Nonetheless, the Obama administration has allowed the states to make their own decisions on allowing marijuana for medical and recreational use.

On Twitter: @billmalinowski

Article source: