Cannabis: Dopes Consider Dope

Part 2 of our interview with outgoing Tax & Regulate lobbyist Jared Moffat (see part 1 here). Last issue, we spoke with Moffat about how and where legalization has gotten stuck in the state law-making process. In this part, we asked about the study commission, which was announced but not yet actually formed, due to the attention-consuming budget gridlock. RegulateRI, the organization headed by Moffat, was invited to fill a seat on the proposed study commission and declined.

Mike Ryan (Motif): Tell me about the study commission.

Jared Moffat: The study commission is a delay tactic. The real joke around the study commission is that it makes you wonder, “Why do we have a legislative session? Why have we had these committee meetings and testimony and discussions in these committees for years?”

jaredIt’s supposed to be to study issues. What did we have? We had the minimum number of committee meetings, which is one in each chamber. In most of those committee meetings, most of the legislators are basically gone after the first hour. Kudos to the ones who stay and do their job and actually listen to the people who testify. But when you’re talking to a room of three or four legislators and the committee is closer to 15 or 16 members, you can see how much of a joke it is. They’re not interested in actually studying the issue, because if they were, they may have had actual committee meetings, maybe multiple committee hearings. They’re certainly allowed to do that. They might have [had] some of their legislative staff dedicated to providing research. They have those resources – I saw a recent Hummel Report [Motifri.com/hummeljuneii17] about how much money RI devotes to that support staff, compared with other states like New Hampshire, which has more people. We have all this staff whose job it is to research issues and facilitate conversation about policy. What are they doing? If you wanted to study it, why not study it during the legislative session?

It’d be one thing if they said, “We’ve been studying this issue, and here’s how far we’ve come, and we’ve had these conversations and these debates and there are just too many aspects to this and we need more time. We tried and we ran out of time.” I’d be sympathetic to that, if they made a good faith effort. They didn’t put any effort in, and then suddenly they expect to be taken seriously when they create this study commission. That doesn’t pass the laugh test.

And now … because of the stand-off between the speaker and the president … let’s just say I’d be surprised if anything else happens, because even that committee needs to be appointed, and they’ve got other things on their minds. I understand that – they’ve certainly got other issues. But it makes so clear what a joke this is – it’s a fig leaf, a delay tactic. That’s why we didn’t want to take part – we didn’t want to legitimize it.

We’re not against studying the issue – we don’t think the question [being studied] should be IF we want to legalize marijuana. That’s a question for the general assembly – it’s their job, that’s something they’re elected to decide.

What should be studied and what I think would be a good use of time is to study HOW to go about it. There are some real questions – what should the tax rate be, how many stores, what does the labeling need to be like, how will testing be handled, etc. Those are all important questions. We [MPP] don’t have any firm positions or agendas on that, but we do think it should be a conversation that’s happening.

MR: Isn’t there a chicken-and-egg problem there? I’ve heard legislators say they don’t feel they can vote on whether they legalize unless they know how it will be executed.

JM: Yes. That’s essentially what we were pushing for this year – let’s just have a vote on whether marijuana should be legalized – whether it makes sense to put real resources and attention into figuring out the hows.

That would be at least forward progress. People don’t want to get serious about details until you’ve acknowledged that, “Yeah, we are going to do this.” The reality is that even many of our opponents have admitted publicly that, “Yeah, legalization is inevitable.” You’d have to be living under a rock to think that that’s not the case. I think everyone would tell you that in the next five years or so, RI’s going to have to have legal marijuana. It’s happening nationally. It’s happening in New England.

Opponents want to slow things down and I get that – it’s a strategy. If I were on their side, I might have the same strategy. But it’s another thing for the entire legislature to think that’s a SMART strategy. I put the blame for the lack of progress on our legislators, not on [tax & regulate] opponents. And particularly on the leadership for thinking that delaying and delaying is what’s best for Rhode Island. It’s extremely short-sighted, and really it’s laziness. They don’t want to take the time to think about it. They don’t want to figure it out. They’d rather just kick the can down the road as far as possible.

MR: What are your next steps?

JM: We wanted to show people that we are interested in studying the issues, just not in the study commission. So we are putting together an extensive report that will include interviews with people around the state and in other states about how policies have led to different outcomes. Folks who are not necessarily supporters of either side – credible, neutral folks, including some from law enforcement, health policy experts, etc. We’re asking them to pretend for a minute that the General Assembly is going to tax and regulate – put the “if” question to the side for a second. Tell me how it should be done. What are your concerns? How would you like to see them addressed? We’ll give that report to legislators, to show that we are interested in getting this right.

See the other part of this interview

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