After Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November, and a recent poll showed that 59% of Rhode Islanders support legalization, the buzz is that Rhode Island could be one of the next states to go green. We caught up with Jared Moffat, director of Regulate Rhode Island, to get a sense of recreational pot’s chances in the Ocean State.
How do the results of February’s poll play into the chances of legalization happening?
I think we can make it happen this year. Support is growing across the country. It’s not a shock, but it’s something that we wanted to highlight. The support is here in Rhode Island, and it’s not just in one part of the state. We found that in 2015 as well. This isn’t just Providence; the whole state supports this.
What do you attribute this growing support to?
I think there are a number of factors. People see that the current policy isn’t working. Our prohibition isn’t stopping anyone so people are wondering why we’re spending the money. People can see what’s going on in Colorado and Washington. People thought the sky was going to fall and that fear hasn’t materialized. Life in Denver is pretty much the same, but now they have thousands of more jobs for people and millions more in revenue. People’s perception of marijuana has changed. People look at it and ask, “If adults are allowed to drink alcohol why not use a safer substance?”
What does Rhode Island stand to lose by waiting to legalize?
The majority of the state’s population lives within 15-20 minutes of the Massachusetts border. It’s not implausible for a savvy entrepreneur to set up shop in Swansea or Seekonk. Our economies are already intertwined, and if we don’t set up shop here, we’re going to risk people doing business is Massachusetts and putting money in their tax coffers. But this isn’t just about tax revenue. The new jobs and business are just as important. We’d be crazy not to be on board. Massachusetts would be thrilled if we don’t pass a bill this year because they get a bigger slice of the pie. The question of if has been settled. Now we need to step up and decide how it should be done.
What do you say to people who aren’t ready to see marijuana regulation take this next step?
I constantly hear people who are on the fence say we shouldn’t rush into this because of tax revenue. I’ve been saying for years that tax revenue isn’t the reason we should do this. Number one is public health and safety. Doing this for revenue has never been our message. We’ve been talking about public health, public safety and the social injustice that comes with these policies. There are thousands of Rhode Islanders with criminal records for marijuana infractions. These are a ball and chain holding them back from opportunities. Why do we want to continue to hold them back for these arcane laws?