Several of Rhode Island’s New England neighbors, including Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont, have already legalized marijuana to some degree. Connecticut and Vermont, the latter of which legalized possession but not sales, are considering full legalization as well. And nearby, New York and New Jersey are pursuing the policy change.
In the face of all this movement, Rhode Island officials said they were worried about getting left behind.
“I will say, I do this with reluctance,” Raimondo told the Providence Journal. “I have resisted this for the four years I’ve been governor. … Now, however, things have changed, mainly because all of our neighbors are moving forward [with marijuana legalization].”
The proposal would legalize possession and sales, which would be taxed. It would impose stricter laws and regulations than those in other states that have legalized; it would ban home-growing cannabis and high-potency marijuana products like dabs, and limit how much THC (the main psychoactive component of marijuana) edibles can contain.
“We’re not doing this for the revenue,” Kevin Gallagher, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, told the Providence Journal. “We’re going to be surrounded by [marijuana], and the only way we will be able to control the public health, to make sure we have safe products, control distribution, ensure proper enforcement, is if we take control of our own destiny and establish a framework here that has those significant protections.”
Already, 10 states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Colorado and Washington state were the first two to do so — by ballot initiatives — in 2012. Since then, all but Vermont have legalized marijuana via ballot initiative. No state has legalized recreational sales through the legislature yet, although several, including Rhode Island, seem likely to do so in 2019.
Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.
Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will enable a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries, which have built their financial empires in large part on some of the heaviest consumers of their products. This could result in far more people using pot, even if it leads to negative health consequences.