In Their Own Words: Scott Slater

Do you believe that cannabis will be legal in RI at some point in our future?
For me, the question of legalization is not so much about if but when. The prohibition of cannabis has been one of the great stains on our nation’s history, and has negatively impacted so many people from a social justice and public health perspective. We have seen other states effectively implement legalization measures, and we know that a majority of Rhode Islanders support this idea. I am confident that state leaders and my colleagues in the General Assembly will recognize the benefits and follow the lead of states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
What do you think would be the advantages of being the first state in New England to legalize?
The advantages of being the first state in New England to legalize are significant. A rather large industry has emerged in other parts of the country around cannabis economies, and this industry will make investment decisions based on first-to-market policy decisions. The industry includes organizations that will have direct contact with cannabis production, along with companies that have indirect ties to the industry like suppliers, financiers, security firms and technology companies. Tradesman, labor unions and workers seeking opportunity in a new and emerging market will also benefit. The investment and jobs associated with taking cannabis out of the black market and into a taxed and regulated arena will be significant. RI can absorb the incredible interest that exists for an East Coast base for these activities, and by taking legislative action now we can beat our neighboring states to the punch.
What do you think the disadvantages would be?
Rather than call them disadvantages, I would highlight some challenges that we should focus on when dealing with legalization. First, it is essential to establish a regulatory framework that allows the state to see the most benefit. This includes a tax structure that is enticing to new investment, but also substantial enough to help our state economy grow. Putting in place regulations, controls, oversight and state personnel to make this happen is not easy, but we have the benefit of seeing what other states have done well. I also share the concerns of law enforcement and public health professionals about legalization, specifically the concerns about use rates among young people. That is why my bill directs a portion of taxes collected on legalized cannabis to drug education and prevention efforts, as well as toward training police officers on drug recognition (see more on page 22).
These are challenges that we should not take lightly. Fortunately, we have a very good sense of how legalized markets have developed in other states, and can make sound public policy decisions based on these experiences. That is also why I feel so strongly that the time to act is now, so RI can begin the process of getting the regulatory framework right, while also gaining benefits from this policy decision before our neighboring states.
Many government officials have supported a “wait and see” philosophy – to see what happens in Colorado and elsewhere before deciding about RI.
Colorado voters passed the legalization measure in 2012 and commercial sales began in 2014. In that four years we have seen the state develop responsible regulations and rules that have resulted in the taxation of over a billion dollars of legal cannabis sales in the last year alone. That is a billion dollars that used to go to the black market cartels and drug dealers. I do not believe there is any need to wait any longer to see what this public policy decision will look like. We know quite clearly that Colorado has raised significant dollars in new tax revenues for things like school construction and drug prevention. We know that drug cartels have seen an enormous drop in their operations, which are often violent and put the public at risk. And we also know that public polling of Colorado residents shows that the change continues to enjoy significant majority support since it was enacted. The Colorado experiment is the strongest reason for taking action on legalization in Rhode Island as soon as possible.
What does it say about the culture in the states that have voted to legalize marijuana? How are those states culturally or philosophically different from RI?
I’m not sure it is a question of culture or philosophy. I think it is more about the way in which laws can be passed in states that have already embarked on legalization. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska all made the change by a vote of the people. Rhode Island requires the legislature to act on behalf of the public. Based on the last few years of public polling, I am quite certain that if our state allowed for a binding ballot question, we would already have the legalization of cannabis in place.

Leave a Reply

Prove that you are human *

Previous post:

Next post: