Massachusetts opened the first dispensaries on the East Coast in mid-November, and Rhode Island’s debate about recreational marijuana legislation got more serious very quickly. Providence, Rhode Island residents only have to drive about an hour and a half maximum to visit either of the two dispensaries, meaning the ability to legally purchase marijuana is a short road trip for anyone interested.

State officials who are in favour of legalizing the drug point out that possession of an ounce is a misdemeanor, putting more stress on the state’s various police forces. The proposed sentence can be up to 20 years in prison for possession of more than 5 kg of the drug, with fines of anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000.

As this stress increases, the job market stays the same while Massachusetts could see as many as 20,000 new jobs, and no tax revenue from marijuana sales will be entering Rhode Island state coffers.

The state already opted to legalize medical marijuana, with legislation that has been on the books since 2006. However, bills to legalize recreational use have been introduced in 2016, 2017, and even 2018, with little progress through the legislature. Efforts to legalize will continue in 2019, although state officials say the support of the governor, speaker or senate president will be necessary to see significant progress for the proposed legislation.

A commission that was created to study the issue of legalizing marijuana has pushed back the projected release of its findings from late 2018 to February 2019. According to commission members, there are differing opinions on the results, and more work is needed to reach a conclusion that would be worthy of release.

The current opinion of state residents regarding the matter is still a close split; a poll conducted in October 2018 showed that 47% of residents polled were in support of legalization, while 37% said no and 7% were unsure of their opinion on the matter.

State officials cite concerns about public safety and social cost as reasons to postpone legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana use in the state. Other concerns that top the priority list are issues related to the workforce should marijuana use be legalized, the potential impact on children specifically, and the access to edibles if recreational use is legal statewide.

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