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Lawmakers debate recreational marijuana bill

This year, lawmakers in Rhode Island once again debated the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. According to WPRI 12, lawmakers have been debating this issue each year since 2011 without coming to a vote. Since Massachusetts recently passed recreational marijuana laws, with stores opening as soon as July 2018, many supporters want to pass a law so as not to lose out on the tax revenue stores in Rhode Island could provide.

The Providence Journal reports that the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association is against legalization and detailed incidences of crimes where the perpetrators were high, including “36 cases of breaking and entering, nine shootings, four homicides, nine fires and four explosions.” They fear legalizing would lead to an increase in crime, without a staff to support the community. Others worry about the cost of doing business after legalization, including how employers will be affected. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin cautioned that the legalization of recreational pot could lead to an increase in workplace safety lawsuits.

Yet many are now in support of the legalization effort, including a labor union, SEIU New England 1199, and a pastor who believes criminalization prevents people with addiction issues from getting help. For many the issue is just a matter of dollars and cents: if the bill passes this year, Rhode Island could bring in an estimated $162 million in taxes from recreational marijuana sales by 2020. Retail sales, from existing dispensaries and later recreational stores, would be taxed 30 percent total: 23 percent plus the usual sales tax of 7 percent. No vote has been scheduled, but with the Massachusetts law, many lawmakers seem more serious in the debates this year.

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