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RI Senate president opposes marijuana legalization in 2020

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said Tuesday he is opposed to marijuana legalization, saying instead he wants better enforcement of the medical marijuana program.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she’s “likely” to propose recreational marijuana legalization in her budget proposal in January. She did so this past January as well, but the General Assembly declined to legalize.

Instead, lawmakers expanded the medical marijuana program from three dispensaries to nine, and increased the licensing fee for those dispensaries to $500,000 a year.

“I am opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana at this time,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “I am not satisfied that we have a good handle on regulating medical marijuana at this point, and so I don’t think it would be wise to expand it until we have a better sense of factors like how many plants are in the state for the medical program.”

Ruggerio first made the comments in a series of year-end interviews with news outlets on Tuesday. (Earlier this month, Ruggerio’s spokesperson did not answer a question about his stance.)

He cited “worker safety” and federal work requirements for defense contracts as “significant” reasons for his stance.

“I think we need to monitor what is taking place in Massachusetts and proceed very cautiously and deliberatively,” Ruggerio said.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello also did not answer emailed questions about marijuana for “The Business of Cannabis,” a 12 on 12 Digital Original that debuted Tuesday, including what he thinks about legalizing in 2020.

In a recent interview, Raimondo would not go into detail about what she might propose in January. But her previous plan was to levy a 20% tax rate on the sale of recreational cannabis, and ban home growing for non-medical use.

“It’s here whether you like it or not,” Raimondo told WPRI 12. “So let’s do the smart thing and have a regulatory system that keeps people safe.”

Raimondo’s administration has been actively trying to clamp down on home growing in the medical market, too, concerned that the product is ending up on the black market. Patients argue the home-grown plants provide a much cheaper way for them to access their medicine than buying from dispensaries. (Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance plans.)

Raimondo is also locked in a legal dispute with the General Assembly over her administration’s new regulations for medical marijuana expansion. Raimondo sued Mattiello and Ruggerio after the General Assembly gave itself veto power over the regulations, which raised concerns about separation of powers.

The leaders have said they plan to repeal the provision during the next legislative session, but Ruggerio has also said he doesn’t think Raimondo’s proposed regulations reflect the intent of the law.

Lawmakers had intended to allow the new dispensaries, called compassion centers, to grow their own cannabis. But Raimondo’s proposal would require them to only buy from the existing 51 licensed cultivators (plus 27 with licenses pending). The existing cultivators can also apply for the new compassion center licenses.

For more in-depth coverage of the marijuana industry in RI, watch our 12 on 12 Digital Original “The Business of Cannabis.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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