Legislation would decriminalize marijuana in R.I.
Kate Nussenbaum browndailyhearld.com
Around 15 supporters and one lone dissenter provided testimony on two bills regarding the legality of marijuana possession at a House Committee on Judiciary hearing last night. The first bill, introduced by Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton and Portsmouth, would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The second bill, introduced by Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, would make marijuana a legal drug that could be “taxed and regulated.” This is the third year in a row the decriminalization bill has been brought before the committee.
Edwards said decriminalizing marijuana would save the state between $4 million and $11 million, remove the social stigma of being arrested for what many consider a minor offense and provide regional consistency across New England. Marijuana is currently decriminalized in every New England state except Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont, which also have decriminalization bills pending.
If the decriminalization legislation passes, adults found with one ounce or less of the drug would incur a $150 fine but would no longer face jail time. Fourteen states have passed similar legislation, and “none have imploded,” Edwards said.
Casey O’Dea ’14 and Jared Moffat ’13, members of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, attended the hearing to testify in favor of the bill. Moffat is a Herald opinions editor. Current laws regarding marijuana are ineffective, O’Dea told The Herald. There is no evidence that suggests decriminalization leads to higher use rates, and half the revenue generated from the new fines would help fund programs to educate minors about drug use, he said.
Kathleen Sullivan, director of the BAY Team, Barrington’s drug prevention coalition, was the sole opponent of the proposed legislation to testify at the hearing. She said she was concerned about the drug’s short- and long-term risks, especially for young people. Decriminalizing marijuana may alter how young people perceive it, she said. “When their perception of harm goes down, over time, use rates go up,” she said.
Not enough time has passed to accurately measure the effects of the drug’s decriminalization in other states, Sullivan said. Marijuana may “diminish” students’ academic potential, she added. “What is our workforce going to look like in the future?”
Both Sullivan and Rep. Doreen Costa, D-Exeter and North Kingstown, said they were concerned that decriminalization could lead to increased cases of driving under the influence.
Many Rhode Island residents — including students, parents and law enforcement workers — testified in favor of the bill. The current law is “perceived as a tremendous waste of time and resources,” said Bev Commery, who has been a patrol officer in Providence since 1976.
The time police spent enforcing marijuana prohibition in 2007 was equivalent to nearly 1,000 eight-hour shifts, said Jack Cole, a retired Rhode Island police lieutenant.
More than 40 percent of the court’s time is spent dealing with marijuana charges, despite the fact that “most people incarcerated for marijuana are generally not associated with violent crime,” said Becky Marin, a representative from OpenDoors, a Rhode Island organization that offers support to those who have been incarcerated.
Proponents of the bill also asserted that the current law is discriminatory. College students and people who live in affluent communities are never targeted, Commery said.
Minority communities are currently “hit the hardest” by the state’s marijuana policy, said Robert Capecchi, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group for marijuana policy reform. Blacks and Hispanics are 1.6 times more likely to face arrest and 8 times more likely to be sent to jail for the same act as their white counterparts. Those with criminal records cannot receive financial aid and student loans, live in public housing or hold public-sector jobs, he said.
Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Herald that public officials, including President Obama, have admitted to smoking marijuana and violating this law. “Its time has come,” he said.
Many of the same supporters testified in favor of Ajello’s legalization bill, though they were less hopeful that it would pass this year.
Capecchi said regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana could be an “incredible financial boon” for the state.
Peter Hammond, a Rhode Island resident, said, “If you ask the people in Woonsocket right now if they want to raise taxes or sell a little marijuana, what would they want to do?”
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Legalization of medical marijuana won’t encourage teenagers to smoke more: study
Brown University research sees no rise in teens lighting up
BY Rheana Murray
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Legalizing medical marijuana doesn’t push more teens to light up, new research shows.
A study from Brown University compared rates of marijuana use in Massachusetts to those in Rhode Island – where medical use of the drug was legalized in 2006.
Findings suggested the legislation has no influence on teens’ drug habits.
Dr. Esther Choo, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the university’s medical school and a physician at Rhode Island Hospital, said researchers selected the liberal-leaning Northeastern spots based on their similarities.
“We wanted to pair these two states because they have so much in common culturally and geographically,” Dr. Esther Choo told Time.com.
Teenagers surveyed were no more likely to smoke marijuana in Rhode Island, post-legalization, than they were in Massachusetts.
About 30 percent of kids reported using marijuana at least once in the previous month – legalization or not, Time.com reported.
Choo pointed out that it’s not young people who are likely to benefit from medical marijuana.
“Whether they are taking it for pain or for vomiting control or appetite, this is not a group we think of as superinspiring for young people to take up their drug patter,” he said to Time.com. “It’s an older population that is generally very ill.”
Choo’s research backs up a similar study from 2005, in which a psychology professor from the State University of New York found that marijuana use in California didn’t jump after the state legalized the drug for medicinal purposes.
Between 1996 – when California passed the law – and 2004, the number of students who admitted to smoking pot in the previous month dived 47 percent.
The trend was consistent among other states the study monitored.
“I’m delighted to see that their work confirms my previous report that medical marijuana laws do not increase teen use,” said Mitch Earleywine, who wrote the analysis.
Update: Chafee puts end to medical marijuana dispensaries
5:31 PM Thu, Sep 29, 2011
W. Zachary Malinowski projo.com
Who has 2 thumbs and guaranteed unemployment next term? That guy......-UA
The decision comes after five months of delays and indecision by Chafee's office on how they willl proceed with issuing licenses to three dispensaries that were selected by the state Department of Health last spring.
"After much internal and external discussion and research, I have decided that the State of Rhode Island cannot proceed with the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana compassion centers under current law,'' Chafee said in a statement.
Thousands of patients in the state program had been awating the opening of the dispensaries, hoping that they would have a safe, secure and reliable place to buy the drug to cope with ailments like cancer, glaucoma and chronic pain.
Continue to the next screen to read Chafee's full statement:
After much internal and external discussion and research, I have decided that the State of Rhode Island cannot proceed with the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana compassion centers under current law.
This has been a difficult decision. I believe that patients with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS should have safe, reliable and well-regulated access to marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Rhode Island has a card and caregiver law currently in place for distributing medical marijuana to patients in need. I have met with and heard from advocate groups and patients that this existing system has serious flaws. In 2009, in an effort to address these flaws, the General Assembly passed a new law authorizing the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana through three state-registered and regulated compassion centers. The Governor's constitutional duty is to implement laws passed by the General Assembly and I take that obligation very seriously.
Unfortunately, Rhode Island's compassion center law is illegal under paramount federal law. And, while the United States Attorney in each district is given some discretion in the local enforcement of federal laws, I have received communications from both the United States Department of Justice and from the United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island that large scale commercial operations such as Rhode Island's compassion centers will be potential targets of "vigorous" criminal and civil enforcement efforts by the federal government. I cannot implement a state marijuana cultivation and distribution system which is illegal under federal law and which will become a target of federal law enforcement efforts. Federal injunctions, seizures, forfeitures, arrests and prosecutions will only hurt the patients and caregivers that our law was designed to protect.
I remain committed to improving the existing medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system in Rhode Island. I am hopeful that the General Assembly will introduce new legislation in the upcoming session that will address the flaws in, and indeed make improvement to, the existing medical marijuana card and caregiver system while not triggering federal enforcement actions. I pledge to work with advocates, patients and members of the General Assembly towards that end.
Gov. Chafee Stalling On Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Compassion Centers
by Robert Capecch theweedblog.com
It’s been nearly four months now since Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) decided to place a hold on his state’s compassion center program. Concerned that individuals involved in the compassion centers and state employees acting in compliance with the law would be targeted and prosecuted by federal officials, the governor has since refused to grant certificates of operation to the three entities previously chosen by the state health department to operate the centers. It’s time Gov. Chafee ends his hold and fully implements the compassion center program in Rhode Island.
Gov. Chafee’s initial fear that state employees would be prosecuted, or even threatened with prosecution, by the federal government for performing job duties consistent with a medical marijuana law should have been put to rest recently. In a motion-to-dismiss a suit challenging the Arizona medical marijuana program, a Department of Justice attorney argued that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s claims were frivolous, in part because she could point to no “genuine threat that any state employee will face imminent prosecution under federal law” and that she “can point to no threat of enforcement against the State’s employees.” Likewise, there have been no threats by the DOJ that Rhode Island state employees would face federal charges for performing their duties under their medical marijuana program.
Additionally, Gov. Chafee can find inspiration and assurance from the actions of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) who recently announced his intention to fully implement New Jersey’s medical marijuana law. Gov. Christie stated that, as a former U.S. Attorney, he sees no reason why his state’s medical marijuana program would invite federal interference. Rhode Island’s law is similar to New Jersey’s in that it allows for only a finite number of dispensaries to serve the patient population, making it easier for the state to adequately regulate the industry.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island lack the safe, immediate, and regulated access to their medicine that so many of their peers in other states have. When the Rhode Island General Assembly approved of compassion centers, they did so because they understood that a regulated supply system is preferable to patients accessing their medicine via the criminal market. Seemingly, Gov. Chafee understands this as well. However, his refusal to issue the operation certificates, despite the lack of an imminent threat of federal prosecution, not only hurts the patients, but also calls into question his respect for the laws passed by the legislative branch of Rhode Island.
The role of the governor is to execute the laws of a given state, not to block duly enacted legislation from being implemented. The legislature of Rhode Island overwhelmingly approved of compassion centers, as do the people of Rhode Island. Gov. Chafee recently refused to hand over a confessed murderer to the feds because, under federal law, the murderer could face the death penalty. Gov. Chafee points out that it is the public policy of his state to avoid the death penalty. I’d like to point out that a compassion center program, even though that too runs contrary to federal law, was a debated and enacted public policy decision of his state. The governor should respect his legislature, stand up for his constituents, and fully execute the laws of his state by issuing compassion center certificates of operation immediately.
Medical Marijuana Growers May Still Be Prosecuted, Justice Department Says
Feds still shooting rhetoric garbage.........-UA
By Joel Rosenblatt - Jun 30 bloomberg.com
The U.S. Department of Justice remains committed to prosecuting large-scale cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana, even in states that have enacted legislation permitting the use of the drug for medical uses, according to a Justice memo obtained by Bloomberg News.
The June 29 memo, from Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole to U.S. attorneys, says a 2009 memo issued by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden -- referred to as the “Ogden Memo” -- remains in effect.
The Ogden letter advised prosecutors that enforcement efforts against people using marijuana to treat cancer or other serious illnesses in accordance with state laws may not be “an efficient use of federal resources,” according to Cole’s memo. The Ogden memo was “never intended to shield” larger scale cultivation, Cole wrote.
“Within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large- scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers,” according to the June 29 memo. “Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants.”
State laws or local ordinances are “not a defense” to civil or criminal prosecution of such cultivation, according to the memo.
Letter: Why We Want Marijuana Decriminalization
A letter to the editor from Rep. John G. Edwards (D—Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D—Cranston)
June 21, 2011 cranston.patch.com
Just last week, the legislature in Connecticut debated and passed legislation that removes the criminal penalty for possession of a small amount of marijuana, replacing it with a civil fine. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, who championed marijuana decriminalization, is expected to sign the bill into law. The Rhode Island General Assembly should follow the lead of our neighbors and pass H 5031/S 270, our companion marijuana decriminalization bills.
Our bills, like those approved in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and 12 other states, would take a modest step to make the penalties for marijuana possession more proportional to the offense and to allow police to focus their time on more serious matters. Rather than facing up to a year in jail, adults who possess up to an ounce of marijuana would pay a civil fine of $200. The money would be divided between funding drug education programs throughout the state and going back to the municipalities that issued the citations. Minors would receive the same civil fine, but their parents would also be notified and the minors would be required to complete a drug education program and community service.
Fourteen states, from Maine to Minnesota to Mississippi, have removed the possibility of jail time from simple possession of marijuana, and the sky has not fallen. Most of the laws have been on the books for more than two decades, and they have not proven controversial. Use rates in states that have decriminalized marijuana possession are just as varied as those with criminal penalties for simple possession. In fact, a 2001 National Research Council study sponsored by the U.S. government comparing use rates in states that have and have not decriminalized marijuana found “little apparent relationship between the severity of sanctions prescribed for drug use and prevalence or frequency of use.”
Decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana will save our state millions of dollars. Written testimony submitted to both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees by Harvard economist Jeff Miron and others estimates that passage of marijuana decriminalization would result in budgetary savings of between 4 and 11 million dollars. This revenue is the direct result of police time saved by allowing our vital law enforcement men and women to simply issue a citation for simple possession as opposed to making an arrest, which requires many more man-hours. Although $11.2 million will not solve all of our budget woes, it certainly does not hurt.
In addition to budgetary savings, decriminalizing small possession of marijuana allows our limited law enforcement to focus on crimes of violence and against property. With Providence and other communities set to potentially lay off police officers, it is vital that we give our brave men and women of the shield all the tools they need to focus their efforts on serious crimes. By reforming the punishment for simple possession of marijuana, a non-violent crime, our law enforcement can focus on the criminals who truly damage our communities through acts of violence and destruction.
Besides financially benefiting our state and helping increase public safety, decriminalizing possession of a small amount of marijuana is socially just. A criminal conviction is too harsh a consequence for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. Besides possible jail time, a criminal conviction or arrest carry with them a damaging stigma. One conviction can lead to a lifetime of consequences that range from denial of employment to being ineligible for student aid. Do we really wish to deny financial assistance for education to a person just for using a substance that has been used by about 100 million Americans, including the past three presidents? We do not think so.
Unfortunately, these harsh collateral penalties are disproportionately felt by Rhode Island’s minority populations. Intentional or not, it is important to recognize that although whites and minorities have similar use rates, according to a report by OpenDoors, blacks and Hispanics in Rhode Island are arrested at a rate of 1.6 times that of white Rhode Islanders. Amazingly, minorities are eight times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for marijuana possession. Decriminalizing possession of a modest amount of marijuana will help alleviate this unjust disparity.
The time has come for Rhode Island to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. This idea is not radical, nor is it uncommon. It will save our state millions of dollars while allowing our precious law enforcement resources to focus on violent crimes and crimes against property. Advocating for and passing decriminalization should not be confused with being soft on crime. Decriminalization is smart policy.
Rep. John G. Edwards (D—Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D—Cranston)
Lawmakers say Chafee wants to avoid federal action
Common 'Linc set a precedent!-UA
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 By W. Zachary Malinowski projo
PROVIDENCE — Two state legislators met with Governor Chafee on Tuesday for an update on the state’s plans to license three compassion centers to sell marijuana to patients in the state medical-marijuana program.
Sen. Rhoda E. Perry and Rep. Scott A. Slater, both Providence Democrats, emerged from Chafee’s office following a 15-minute meeting in the State House. They felt that Chafee was supportive of the program to provide medical marijuana to those suffering from chronic pain and other illnesses, but the governor wants to make sure that the state doesn’t make a wrong move and subject the dispensary owners and investors to federal prosecution.
Slater and Perry want to get clarification on the risks from Sen.Sheldon Whitehouse.
“We don’t know anything,” Perry said. “We really need to get more information from the senator.”
The legislators met with Chafee for the first time since Peter F. Neronha, U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, sent a letter to the governor’s office on April 27, saying that he might prosecute or take civil action against the centers and anyone affiliated with them. Neronha’s letter came just a few weeks after the state Department of Health announced that it had selected three dispensaries to sell medical marijuana in the state.
In response to Neronha’s threat, Chafee “placed a hold” on the dispensary program.
Similar missives were issued in several of the other 15 states that permit medical marijuana and have established, or are considering establishing dispensaries.
Among them are Maine and Vermont.
In early April, the first dispensary on the East Coast opened in Frenchville, Maine, in a raised-ranch house near the Canadian border. Two others were scheduled to open last week in Auburn and Ellsworth, Maine. A woman who answered the telephone at the Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn said that the business was open to patients “registered in the Department of Health and Human Services” medical-marijuana program.
She referred other questions to the owner, Tim. He did not return two phone messages.
In Vermont, the state House of Representatives and Senate have approved legislation that will allow the opening of four dispensaries.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, who sponsored a similar bill in the Senate last year, is expected to sign it, despite a letter from Tristram J. Coffin, the U.S. Attorney in Vermont, who sent a letter to lawmakers that was almost identical to the one Neronha sent to Chafee. Coffin said the dispensaries are drug-trafficking enterprises and would be subject to federal prosecution.
Claire Richards, Chafee’s chief legal counsel, has been the governor’s point person on the medical-marijuana dispensaries. She has had several conversations with Neronha, and she participated in a conference call with governors attending the National Governors Association in North Carolina.
She said that she is especially concerned about a federal prosecutor in Washington who has threatened to prosecute state workers involved in the regulation of the state’s marijuana-dispensary program. She also said that at least one private dispensary in Montana is suing the federal government for raiding its establishment.
Montana’s program, unlike Rhode Island’s, is not regulated by the state.
Richards said that she has also met with Seth Bock, owner of the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth, and Terence Fracassa, legal counsel for the Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick. They were two of the three applicants selected to run dispensaries in Rhode Island.
The other was the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, named after Representative Slater’s late father. He, along with Perry, championed the legalization of medical marijuana in Rhode Island. In 2009, Perry sponsored legislation that allowed the state to open up to three medical-marijuana dispensaries, also known as compassion centers.
Richards also has met with JoAnne Lepannen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, an organization that works hand-in-hand with the medical-marijuana program and its patients.
Slater and Perry said that they hope to have a second meeting with Chafee in two weeks.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Slater said. “[Chafee] wants to see what the other states are doing.”
Check out Catherine's blog @ http://www.cannabisculture.com/v2/users/catharine-leach AND Read Catherine's articles each month in Releaf Magazine.
ALSO, RHODE ISLAND PATIENS! Watch for R.I.C.C. ................a group for the patients.....First meeting next Thursday, check our Facebook page for more info! -UA
On May 24 I testified during a Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on S0270, the Marijuana Decriminalization bill.
I was the second-to-last witness, so most bases (talking points) were already covered, lots of impressive data and statistics were demonstrated in favor of decriminalization, and two out of nine witnesses were against it: a special assistant attorney general and member of the Barrington Substance Abuse Task Force.
So my testimony ended up being a lot more personal, because I was honestly coming from a personal perspective. I’ve been using marijuana responsibly for about 10 years now, and yet I graduated school with high honors, graduated college, got married, raised a family, hold a full time job, and volunteer in my community, have NO record – and right now, our laws say I should go to prison for that choice.
There was much debate and interrogation over drugged driving and how this was going to make our roads less safe. That we are putting innocent people on the roads at risk for sending the wrong ‘message’ that marijuana is not a criminal act. Drugged Driving laws exist; it’s a non-issue for this particular bill, yet it was the constant crutch, if you may, that the opponents and skeptics continually use as a detour to killing the bill. We had the MPP, DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), R.I.C.C., an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, all in support of marijuana decriminalization.
'Influencing the youth' was the other big talking point. If you decriminalize cannabis possession, what does that say to the youth? Drug use will increase, and more harm will be done. Marijuana is a gateway drug so surely making the penalties less severe for marijuana will actually end up causing youth to use even harder drugs just because of the perception that marijuana is ok. They said that marijuana-related rehabilitation rates have been on a steady rise for the past ten years. Decriminalizing marijuana will only increase these rates further.
No one seemed to want to focus on the fact that our laws regarding this relatively safe substance (deaths per year from marijuana: zero. Yearly alcohol related deaths: 105,000) are flawed to the core, and unless you outlaw tobacco and alcohol tomorrow, you’ll NEVER tell me I deserve to be in jail for this. That is why I am speaking out personally. We are still a democracy and we CAN still change bad laws, but boy, we sure do need some more Mamas and Grandmamas coming out to say to people like Senator Shibley “you want to put me in jail?! But you let the bars and clubs have parking lots?!”
Putting otherwise good, law-abiding, productive members of society in jail for choosing cannabis over alcohol, tobacco, over-eating, shopping, whatever the vice may be that you WON’T go to jail for – putting me, and every mother like me in prison is more harmful to our entire society than the act of inhaling.
I looked Senator Shibley, the most vocal opponent of this bill in the eyes, and I said, "Look at me and tell me I should go to jail." His answer was, "As to whether or not you should go to jail, I'm going to plead the fifth."
The bill died in committee.