Various states surrounding Rhode Island have changed policies regarding marijuana use. When legislators return in Jan. 2019, the political landscape for marijuana will have a significantly greener hue.

In response to this change, legislators like State Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, are optimistic that marijuana legislation like he has pushed for will be received in a warmer manner. Slater has backed legalization measures for several years, each dying a quiet death before they make much progress.

Rep. Slater is already working on his proposal for this year, noting it will include measures that provide communities control over sales in their area. He also feels that the medical marijuana program will benefit from this legalization, as the taxation and testing will provide a more reliable way to control and ensure the quality of these currently illegal products.

Skeptics, which includes the state’s top regulator for the medical marijuana program, feel that Slater is a bit overly optimistic when it comes to these procedures and their effect. He also has a very optimistic vision of the timetable when all of this would come into effect and truly begin to make a difference.

The best example of this process and how long it can take is Massachusetts, who only recently opened two dispensaries for recreational users to utilize. This event, which was historical as the first dispensaries on the east coast to open to adults over the age of 21 for legalized purchase of marijuana, was two years in the making. The legislation has been in place for that long, but the determination of various factors took time and struggle to accomplish.

The availability of marijuana, in a legal market, to Rhode Island residents may have a big impact on how even those who have long opposed legalization feel going forward. The fact that the state already struggles with drug abuse issues and that now residents will have marijuana easily accessible in Massachusetts, possibly as close as Connecticut in the next couple years, will weigh heavily when legalization measures are considered.

One big determining factor will be the funds needed for programs to address drug abuse. Those in favour of legalization point out that these programs require funding, and taxation of marijuana could go a long way towards helping with that funding deficit.