GUEST VOICE: Marijuana Is Not The Enemy, Establishment Politics Is

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Many members of the group I organized, which is called Regulate Middletown, worked together to reach out to the various council members to voice what they felt was a hasty and inappropriate passing of an ordinance. In the email replies from various council members, this licensing and permitting ordinance, which was introduced in conjunction with the zoning ordinance, suddenly developed an entirely new purpose. Even in a Newport Daily News Article about the ordinance, Council President Robert Sylvia attempted to quickly shift the purpose of the ordinance;

“It’s not just about marijuana, but banning our licensing of any illegal activity or substance in the town, which is quite common in Rhode Island,” Sylvia said. “There are pesticides and landscaping chemicals that can be sold legally in Massachusetts and not Rhode Island. It’s about that and issuing licenses for massage parlors that are nothing more than fronts for prostitution. It’s about not allowing off-track betting parlors, something else that’s not legal in Rhode Island.”

        Here Sylvia tries to paint the proposed ordinance as also being a means to protect Middletown residents from pesticides and landscaping chemicals, pseudo-massage parlors and off-track betting. This would most definitely make sense if these were mentioned during the discussion of the ordinance during the Town Council meeting on July 18th. Instead, marijuana was mentioned as the sole purpose of this ordinance five times by the Town Administrator and an additional five times by Councilman Lombardi.

Throughout the meeting, Councilman Lombardi continued to make comments that further confused this entire issue. He stated; “…it’s not about the adult that wants to make the choice, if it’s legalized, to go out and smoke marijuana or drink alcohol. It’s about the risk to our kids. And that’s what most important to me…” While this is certainly a noble perspective, that we should indeed protect our youth from any drugs that could potentially permanently alter their brain before it is fully developed, his means to achieve this goal is bewildering.

The regulation bill that is currently sitting in committee in the Providence State House, deals with this issue specifically. Under 21-28.10-5, in the section titled “Ineligibility for registration”, the bill notes that; “A marijuana establishment may not operate, and a prospective marijuana establishment may not apply for a registration, if any of the following are true: (1) The entity would be located within one thousand feet (1000′) of the property line of a pre-existing public or private school…” On top of this, the bill includes sections that state that licenses to sell recreational marijuana will be revoked and that the holders will be fined, if it is discovered that they were selling the drugs to minors.

This is where the logic gets very confusing. Councilman Lombardi claims that his issue is most importantly about the children, and yet he chooses to perpetuate an illegal black market. Nationwide, studies have been conducted in the states where marijuana has been legalized and the overall trajectory is clear; regulation does not lead to increased teen use. While data can be cherry-picked from small data samples, the appropriately conducted surveys that question thousands of individuals point in one, simple direction; regulation does not lead to increased teen use. A legal business has a vested interest in maintaining a legal distribution of their product. An illegal dealer on the black market has no such incentive, and also has no incentive to not also offer other illicit drugs like cocaine or heroin. Ask any student which is easier to obtain in the halls of Middletown High School, a gram of marijuana or a bottle of Jack Daniels, and the evidence is clear; regulation does not lead to increased teen use.

In email responses from the various council members, several made an effort to make light of the situation, stating that they were unaware what was being voted on during the August 15th Town Council meeting. In those emails, some council members stated that it was passed in an “underhanded way”, and that they were “just as surprised” as us advocates when they read the paper on August 16th and learned that they had banned the sale of marijuana.

While this may have been an attempt to alleviate the anger of the advocates for regulation, this instead pushed us in the opposite direction. It was disconcerting that our local officials had simply become mindless rubber stamps, effectively passing anything that came across their desk without the least bit of discussion amongst themselves. What else, aside from the regulation of cannabis, are they legislating on, unaware of?

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