Legislature moves to dismiss Raimondo marijuana lawsuit

Politics - Government
Mattiello Ruggerio 2017_510082

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island legislative leaders are asking a judge to dismiss the governor’s lawsuit challenging their veto power over medical marijuana and hemp regulation.

Last month, Gov. Gina Raimondo sought a preliminary injunction from the R.I. Superior Court to block the Assembly’s assertion of new authority over the budding industry. Raimondo described the new law as “a clear violation of separation of powers,” and said it was “snuck into the budget” late last session.

“The medical marijuana business is a new industry, it’s a growing industry, it’s an opportunity for Rhode Island — it’s an opportunity to create revenue and create jobs,” Raimondo told reporters in October. “But it’s also an opportunity for corruption. Anytime the state is passing out licenses, this state or any other state, it’s an opportunity for corruption.”

The nine-page court filing warns that the new law’s provisions “give unchecked control to the Legislature over hemp and medical marijuana rulemaking.” While a state agency must “prepare a comprehensive, on-the-record, rationale supporting each regulation, including public input,” it notes, lawmakers would not.

On Friday, the legislature’s attorney, Lauren Jones, filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing, “Contrary to the claims of the Governor, there is no present constitutional crisis because there is no case and controversy and, therefore, there is no reason to take up the Court’s valuable time.”

Both House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have said they plan to repeal the law in question come January.

If the judge declines to dismiss the suit, Jones filed an “alternative” motion asking the judge to stay the litigation until 2020.

“The Speaker and the President have both represented to the Governor and her counsel — even before this lawsuit was commenced — that the legislative-approval provisions [of the law], as amended, will be repealed as early in the 2020 legislative session as reasonably possible,” Jones wrote. “When that repealing legislation is enacted (and signed by the Governor), this case will be moot.”

Raimondo’s spokesperson, Josh Block, suggested last month Mattiello should take immediate action rather than fight in court.

“If the speaker wants to change the law now, he can stipulate with the court that he agrees this is a violation of separation of powers, or he could call for a special session,” Block said. “But waiting until next year and taking the speaker at his word that he intends to bring the issue before the General Assembly once again is not an acceptable solution to a constitutional violation.”

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

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