With growing pressure by special interests to push forward with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Rhode Island, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, along with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), the Ocean State Prevention Alliance, and What's the Rush Rhode Island, hosted a press conference to announce a unified opposition to the legalization of marijuana.
Speakers at the press conference included representatives from law enforcement, the prevention and recovery communities, the medical community, the business community, municipal leaders, and others who are united in their opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Rhode Island.
"Many of the voices we heard today, we heard for the first time, especially from the medical community and municipal leaders. What they have to say should make every parent, every teacher, every business owner, every Rhode Islander pause to think about the many real consequences of legalization of recreational marijuana," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "This is a very complex policy decision that will have long lasting effects and unintended consequences, much of which are still unknown. This is not a decision that should be made lightly. It's important that we continue to have these discussions to better understand the full impact of legalization before we head down that a path – a path I believe is the wrong direction for the State of Rhode Island."
"Marijuana lobbyists are pouring money into New England and looking to follow in Big Tobacco's footsteps to become the next big addictive industry in Rhode Island," said SAM Executive Vice President Jeffrey Zinsmeister. "This issue isn't about moralizing or ideology, it's about public health and the communities we want to raise our children in."
During the press conference, SAM unveiled a new ad campaign asking citizens "Are We Sure?" which raises questions about the unintended consequences of legalization.
Stuart Gitlow MD MPH MBA, Immediate Past President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), spoke at the press conference, "ASAM is opposed to any legislation that may result in an increased number of individuals with addictive disease. We are in the midst of an addiction epidemic right now. The last thing we need to do is legalize yet another addictive drug."
As the largest professional organization of pediatricians in the United States and beyond and representing the 250+ pediatricians in the State, the President of the RI Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) weighed in on the Academy's concerns about the legalization of marijuana negative impact on children's health.
In its policy, the AAP affirms its position against the legalization of marijuana, states its opposition to "medical marijuana" outside the FDA regulatory process, and presents recommendations to protect children in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.
"While legalization may be inevitable, a wait and see attitude and thoughtful approach and drawing on the experience of State's like Colorado on the longitudinal impact on its population will highlight legalization is not as positive as initially thought and in many ways, may lead to higher societal costs," said Susan Duffy, MD, MPH, President, RI Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Jennifer Lowenhaupt, President of the RI Council for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (RICCAP), expressed the Council support of the AAP's policy and advocated for "thoughtful consideration of the health effects on young person of any policies and legislatures for marijuana legislation.
The RICCAP concerns that "marijuana is not benign, and adolescents are especially vulnerable to its many known adverse effects; one in six adolescent marijuana users develop cannibas use disorder; heavy use during adolescence is associated with increased incidence and worsened course of psychotic, mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders across the lifespan; and marijuana's deleterious effects on the adolescent brain development, cognition, and social functioning may have immediate and long term implications."
Also attending the press conference were State Representative Dennis Canario and State Senator Cindy Coyne, who have sponsored a joint resolution to establish a commission to study the impact of legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington State to better understand the potential impact legalization might have on Rhode Island.
"As a retired police officer, I have serious concerns over the public safety and public health consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana use," said Representative Canario (D., District 71 - Little Compton, Portsmouth, and Tiverton). "I have proposed a joint commission in the hopes that these and many other concerns are taken into account before the General Assembly makes a decision on this issue. The people deserve a comprehensive discussion instead of a rush to judgment in the hopes of finding more revenues for our state."
"Legalization could have serious public safety, public health, and societal ramifications. It is imperative that we thoughtfully consider the unintended consequences and take notice from lessons learned in Colorado and Washington. As sponsor of a joint resolution to establish a new study commission on marijuana legalization the data and analysis from these two states will be very helpful as Rhode Island considers the impact of potential legalization, both positive and negative," added Senator Coyne (D., District 32 – Barrington, Bristol, and East Providence).
North Kingstown Town Council President Richard Welch explained the concern his Council has with the proposal and why it recently passed a resolution opposing the legalization of recreational marijuana and a commercial marijuana industry.
"Our resolution is an indication that the elected officials are not happy with the lack of local control over this new industry. We do not like the lack of control over the marijuana legalization currently being handled by the DBR and limited local control. We have a Home Rule Charter that gives the elected officials control over liquor licenses that we do not have over marijuana cultivators and growers. We do not like this lack of control or the problems that our public safety people deal with daily at local taxpayer expense. The legislation gives the state all the rights and fees with no income coming to the community to cover any of the expenses," he said.
Although unable to make the press conference, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena had strong words for efforts at legalization, "I vehemently oppose the pending legislation which supports the legalization of marijuana in the State of Rhode Island. Furthermore, as Mayor of the Town of Johnston, I am in opposition to House Bill H5555 and Senate Bill S0420, which affects a municipality's ability to effectuate zoning, especially when a city or town opts to ban retail marijuana businesses from their municipality."
Rounding out those who spoke or attended the press conference were members of the prevention community and law enforcement.
"The prevention community really doesn't believe that by legalizing recreational marijuana we will be protecting anyone except big marijuana," said Nancy DeNuccio, certified substance abuse prevention specialist and Ocean State Prevention Alliance member.
"In light of all credible, current evidence it is clear that legalization for recreational use would be societal and fiscal disaster. We can all be grateful for the leadership of General Kilmartin, Senator Coyne and Representative Canario in their efforts to protect our youth and the safety of all Rhode Islanders," said Michael Cerullo of What's the Rush, Rhode Island?
Representing the Rhode Island Police Chiefs' Association at the press conference, Hopkinton Police Chief David Palmer added, "Make no mistake about it; where there are drugs and money; there are guns and violence. And realize that marijuana is a serious and well sought-after drug. I would ask that people take heed of the strong message that Colorado and Washington prosecutors send to every state: get all stakeholders involved and all regulations in place long before considering legalization of recreational marijuana. Clearly we are not close."