Regulate Rhode Island Refutes Attorney General's Resolution

Posted 03/06/2017

The Rhode Island Attorney General's Office is circulating an inaccurate and misleading resolution to local town councils. Read below for a point-by-point response from Regulate Rhode Island.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office has drafted a resolution opposing passage of legislation to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. The template resolution, which is being circulated to town councils around the state, contains a number of untrue claims and implications. Below is a point-by-point response to the Attorney General’s resolution.

“WHEREAS, The Rhode Island General Assembly has and will be considering legislation to “legalize” marijuana in the State of Rhode Island, which would create an alleged billion dollar commercial marijuana industry in Rhode Island to promote and support the consumption of so-called “recreational” marijuana by residents and visitors to Rhode Island and its thirty-nine (39) cities and towns; and”

REALITY: This statement suggests that the legislation is designed to "promote" marijuana consumption. This is an unfair characterization unless one also thinks laws that legalize the sale and production of alcohol are designed to "promote" alcohol consumption. The intent of the legislation is to put in place protections and safeguards to regulate the production and sale of marijuana, which currently happens in an underground market that profits illicit dealers. 

“WHEREAS, legislation “legalizing” marijuana and creating a commercial marijuana industry may authorize to be located in Rhode Island and its cities and towns an unlimited number of marijuana retail stores, wholesale growers and manufacturers, to produce and distribute marijuana and marijuana products, including specifically marijuana candy and other edibles and highly potent marijuana concentrates; and”

REALITY: The proposed legislation would grant significant authority to local governments to control when, where, and how marijuana establishments operate within their jurisdiation. Additionally, towns and cities would be permitted to "opt out" and ban marijuana establishments if such a proposal is approved through a local referendum. The bill under consideration in the General Assembly also requires all edible marijuana products to go through an approval process before being allowed for sale, and it specifically prohibits any products that are designed to be appealing to children (including candy). 

“WHEREAS, the states of Colorado and Washington that have been the earliest adopters of commercial marijuana are already experience highest-in-the-nation teenage use and a doubling of marijuana impaired driving fatalities; and”

REALITY: According to a recent report from Colorado’s Dept. of Public Health and Environment, the rate of marijuana use among adults and adolescents “has not changed since legalization either in terms of the number of people using or the frequency of use among users." The report also states, “Based on the most comprehensive data available, past-month marijuana use among Colorado adolescents is nearly identical to the national average." Virtually every survey of teens in Washington and Colorado has found that marijuana use rates have either remained stable or declined since legalization laws were implemented.

REALITY: There is no evidence for the claim that there has been a “doubling of marijuana impaired driving fatalities” in Colorado and Washington. A 2016 analysis from the Cato Institute concluded that there is no evidence linking legal marijuana with increased traffic fatalities in any states that have legalized for adult use. The Attorney General’s office is most likely thinking about a study of car accidents in Washington conducted by AAA. But the report itself notes that "results of this study do not indicate that drivers with detectable THC in their blood at the time of the crash were necessarily impaired by THC or that they were at fault for the crash," since "the data available cannot be used to assess whether a given driver was actually impaired, and examination of fault in individual crashes was beyond the scope of this study." 

“WHEREAS, legislation “legalizing” marijuana and creating a commercial marijuana industry may severely limit the right and ability of cities and towns and their elected governments to impose reasonable and meaningful restrictions on the marijuana industry, including impediments to local rules around the number, type and location or marijuana retail stores, growers and manufacturers on “home grows”; and”

REALITY: The legislation being considered by the General Assembly states, “Municipalities shall have the authority to enact ordinances or regulations not in conflict with this chapter or with rules and regulations adopted by the office of cannabis coordination regulating the time, place, and manner of cannabis establishments' operations.” The bill also makes clear that local governments would have the authority to create zoning restrictions for marijuana businesses, and it would allow cities and towns ban marijuana establishments altogether through a local referendum.

“WHEREAS, legislation “legalizing” marijuana and creating a commercial marijuana industry would introduce new and additional drug-based activity into cities and towns at a time when so many residents, families and communities are struggling with the human and social consequences of addiction and Rhode Island faces an unprecedented opioid crisis; and”

REALITY: This statement implies that replacing the underground marijuana market with regulated businesses will contribute to the problem of opioid addiction and overdose in our state. However, recent scientific studies show: (1) that states with greater legal access to marijuana have lower rates of opioid use and overdose that states with stricter laws[1]; and (2) that marijuana can be an effective substitute for people seeking to recover from addiction to opioid drugs.[2] Marijuana does not cause fatal overdoses and is also far less addictive than opioids. Furthermore, the legislation under consideration would direct a significant percentage of tax revenue from marijuana to be used for substance abuse treatment, recovery, and prevention programs to help us address the opioid crisis. 

“WHEREAS, legislation “legalizing” marijuana and creating a commercial marijuana industry risks creating a new industry that, much like Big Tobacco, subverts public health for private gain, even as so many questions about its consequences remain unanswered and so much information that is available casts grave doubt on its merits and desirability; and”

REALITY: Under the proposed legislation, marijuana would be more strictly regulated than tobacco. Furthermore, few policy experts think that making tobacco illegal is the right way to minimize its health risks. With tobacco, we've seen a combination of education, regulation, and tax policy lead to historically low usage rates among adults and teens. We can and should use those same tools to address marijuana use. Those tools, however, are not available under the current policy of prohibition. 

[1] “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” Marcus A. Bachhuber, MD et al., The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 174, Issue 10, 1668 – 1673 & “Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use In Medicare Part D,” Ashley C. Bradford and W. David Bradford, Health Affairs, Volume 35, Issue 7, 1230-1236

[2] “Medical Cannabis Use Is Associated With Decreased Opiate Medication Use in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients With Chronic Pain,” Boehnke, Kevin F. et al., The Journal of Pain, Volume 17, Issue 6, 739 – 744 & “The Effects of Dronabinol During Detoxification and the Initiation of Treatment with Extended Release Naltrexone,” A. Bisaga et al., Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 154, 38-45