EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana is facing an uphill battle this year.
Both House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have told Eyewitness News they are leery of the idea.
Despite signs from the General Assembly that this might not be the year for legal recreational marijuana, Raimondo’s Chief Marijuana Policy Expert Norm Birenbaum said with Massachusetts already selling pot legally and Connecticut heading that way, recreational marijuana is already infiltrating the Ocean State.
“I think we are very optimistic the legislature is going to join the governor and do the responsible thing,” he said on this week’s episode of Newsmakers. “We have, as a state, one of the highest per capita uses of marijuana in the country. We’ve had one of the highest uses for the last decade.”
The “marijuana czar” of Colorado Andrew Freedman, whose firm was enlisted by Raimondo to help implement recreational marijuana in Rhode Island, said on Newsmakers there were several lessons were learned from their experience legalizing the drug.
Freedman, formally known as the former director of marijuana coordination, said they learned that allowing home-grown operations led to an increase in crime. He also said the legalization of recreational marijuana was not necessarily the “cash windfall” for the state that they thought it would be.
“The tax revenue is nice, all tax revenue is nice, but at the peak of it, we were coming in with about $250 million a year in tax revenue, which is very real money, but out of a $37 billion budget… So it’s less than 1% of the budget,” Freedman explained.
Some lawmakers are looking for alternatives, including a group of senators who introduced a bill that would increase the number of medical marijuana dispensaries and expand it to patients who say they are suffering from acute pain.
Watch this week’s full episode of Newsmakers with guests Birenbaum and Freedman.