Tax Recreational Marijuana, Not Patients’ Plants, Rhode Island Advocates Say

People who rely on cannabis for relief are not taking kindly to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s plan to tax homegrown medical marijuana plants. And advocates say that if the state wants to raise money from marijuana, it should just legalize recreational use and sales.

State Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and State Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) will introduce legislation to do so Thursday.

The bills would allow adults over 21 to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow one mature cannabis plant, according to a press release from Regulate Rhode Island, a pro-legalization coalition that includes the state’s affiliates of NAACP, ACLU and the Sierra Club, among other organizations. The legislation would also tax and regulate sales and commercial cultivation.

“In a legal market, products would be tested, labeled and packaged appropriately, and consumers are protected from the black market where they can be exposed to other more harmful illegal substances,” Miller said in the release. “Our legislation would put the illegal marijuana dealers out of business while generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue that we can invest in our communities.”

Medical cannabis advocates held a press conference Thursday morning to criticize the governor’s proposal, under which patients would have to pay the state $150 per plant. Caregivers who grow for multiple patients would be charged $350 per plant under what the advocates dubbed a “sick tax,” according to the Providence Journal.

“If Rhode Island wants marijuana to be a source of revenue, it should regulate and tax the hundreds of millions of dollars in adult marijuana sales currently taking place in the underground market,” Slater said. “It should not impose onerous fees on seriously ill people who use marijuana for medical purposes, as our governor recently proposed.”

Neither Raimondo nor House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello have offered public support for ending prohibition outright, but both have said it should at least be considered. The bills from Slater and Miller are likely to get hearings, as similar legislation has in past sessions, but it is unknown whether they will be brought to a vote.

A poll last April found that 57 percent of voters in Rhode Island support legalizing marijuana, with just 35 percent opposed.

It is all but certain that voters in Massachusetts will decide on a ballot question on ending cannabis prohibition this November. Reform advocates say that waiting until after the neighboring Bay State moves ahead will cause Rhode Island to miss out on jobs, tax revenue and innovation that it could otherwise get a leg up on by enacting legalization sooner.



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