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Where things stand on the push to legalize marijuana in RI

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State leaders’ opinions on legalizing recreational marijuana in Rhode Island have evolved over recent years.

During a WPRI 12 debate for governor in 2014, then-candidate Gina Raimondo was asked if she would sign a bill that would authorize a legal market for marijuana in the state.

“Not at this time,” she responded.

Fast-forward to the WPRI 12 debate this fall, and the Democratic governor said she would “consider it.”

“But I’m wary about it,” Raimondo added. “We would have to figure out how to regulate it, so kids don’t get sick and we protect young people.”

Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, has opposed the idea in the past, and while he personally still opposes legal pot, he said in a WPRI 12 debate last month that lawmakers would “consider all options.”

A joint legislative commission tasked with studying the issue was supposed to report its findings during last year’s legislative session. But Larry Berman, a spokesperson for Mattiello, said in an email the commission “could not reach a consensus and decided to not issue a report with any findings due to the differing opinions on the commission.”

Legislation to extend the commission was passed and it is now required to issue a report by Feb. 1, 2019.

State Sen. Joshua Miller, a co-chair of the legislative commission, said he has seen rising support for legalizing pot.

In a WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll last month, a majority of Rhode Island voters said they think recreational marijuana should be legal for consumers over the age of 21.

The survey of 416 likely voters found 56% thought the state should legalize recreational marijuana for people ages 21 and older, while 37% said no and 7% weren’t sure.

“I’ve had that legislation for several years; I think the case keeps building for that,” Miller, D-Cranston, said. “Public support and legislative support continues to grow.”

Mattiello said in an email that while recreational marijuana will raise revenue for the state, “it will also increase social costs and public safety concerns.”  

“We will have to determine what the net impact would be for Rhode Island in light of the legal sales in Massachusetts and other states, and I look forward to collaborating with my House colleagues in the next legislative session and listening to the views of our citizens,” Mattiello said in an email.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, also expressed reservations.

“While I continue to keep an open mind on legalization of recreational marijuana as the state looks into the regulatory and workforce challenges that come along with it, I also have significant concerns, particularly with regard to workforce issues, enforcement around edibles, and impact on children,” Ruggerio said in a statement Tuesday.

“I will look at the experience in Massachusetts as legalization is implemented there, and proceed very cautiously as we continue to have this important public discussion,” he said.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.

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

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