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Pot in Every Pot: RI Legalizes Recreational Cannabis

Recreational cannabis will be legal in RI under a new bill that will be signed into law at a ceremony later today (Wed, May 25) announced by Gov. Daniel McKee for 3:15pm on the south plaza of the State House. Motif plans to live-stream the ceremony – facebook.com/motifri/videos – on Facebook. RI joins 18 other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, that have also legalized.

Sponsored in the Senate (S.24300Aaa) by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-28, Cranston and Providence) and in the House (H.7593Aaa) by Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-10, Providence), the new Cannabis Act is the culmination of a decade of effort to regulate and tax adult recreational cannabis usage similarly to alcohol. Both chambers passed textually identical versions late yesterday (Tue, May 24) afternoon by overwhelming votes, 32-6 in the Senate and 55-16 in the House, largely along party lines with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing the bill, sending it to the governor for his signature. The approvals were widely expected after favorable committee reports last week (Wed, May 18): although the Senate took only a half-hour to debate and vote, the House engaged in a more contentious debate that consumed two hours before voting.

RI Senate passes Cannabis Act (H.2430) by vote of 32-6, May 24, 2022.
RI House passes Cannabis Act (H.7593) by vote of 55-16, May 24, 2022.

For adults at least age 21, possession of personal use quantities of cannabis was decriminalized by RI in 2013, but the new legislation expands that to decriminalize both sale and possession of up to one ounce, and up to 10 ounces for personal use may be kept at a primary residence. Small amounts up to three plants can be grown by those for whom possession is allowed.

A late amendment provides for automatic expungement of criminal convictions, changed from earlier versions of the bill that would have required individual petitions to the courts. (See “ExSPONGing Away Criminal Records: Fighting for automatic expungement in RI”, by Kristen Dansereau, Apr 6, 2022.) Convictions eligible for expungement include any prior civil violation, misdemeanor, or felony conviction for possession of cannabis that would be decriminalized by the new law. Automatic expungement by July 1, 2024, will occur without requiring affected individuals to file a request, pay a fee, or have a hearing, but those who choose not to wait may request an expedited process to have their records expunged sooner.

Municipalities not already hosting medical compassion centers may by referendum opt out of allowing sales. Municipalities currently hosting licensed cultivators or testing laboratories may opt out for the future, but existing facilities will be grandfathered in. A procedure is provided that allows communities to revisit their decision to opt out in later years, should they choose to do so. Municipalities may by local ordinance ban use of cannabis in public places.

In addition to the regular sales tax of 7%, new excise taxes will be imposed on cannabis sales of 10% to the state and 3% to the municipality in which the sale occurs. The new law eliminates fees for patients and caregivers in the RI medical cannabis program, including for identification cards and plant tags, effective Dec 1.

The general assembly said in a statement the law creates a new three-member Cannabis Control Commission whose members are appointed by the governor with input from the Speaker of the House and approval from the Senate, assisted by a new Cannabis Advisory Board. The existing administrative Office of Cannabis Regulation within the Department of Business Regulation will handle the transition to legal recreational use, including issuing hybrid licensing to existing compassion centers and cultivators.

RI Sen. Joshua Miller (D-28)

In the statement Miller, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said, “The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use. Since Rhode Islanders can already access cannabis just across the state border or on the illicit market, we experience all the challenges without any of the safeguards or resources that our neighboring states have. With this bill, we are ending prohibition in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it. This bill has been years in the making, and is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance and recognizing that we cannot make this transition without taking action to make whole the communities and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition.”

RI Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-10)

In the statement Slater, who is first vice chair of the House Finance Committee, said, “Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process. Senator Miller and I represent some of the communities that have suffered disproportionate harm from prohibition for decades, resulting in generational poverty and mass incarceration. The starting line isn’t the same for people in poor, urban and minority communities, and they deserve support to ensure they get the full benefit of participating in legalization. I am grateful to my colleagues in the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of expungement of criminal records and equity in licensing, because they are absolutely critical to ending prohibition fairly.”

Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-23, Warwick), the speaker of the House, said in the statement, “I thank all the advocates, stakeholders, staff and especially Representative Scott Slater, who has worked tirelessly on this issue for the past decade. The bill represents a strong foundation from which to build the safe, equitable regulation of cannabis for adult use. We are proud that this legislation prioritizes the participation of people most impacted by the past enforcement of cannabis laws both through automatic expungement and the creation of a licensing structure based on social equity.”

Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-29, Warwick), the majority leader, said in the statement, “This is a truly momentous day for Rhode Island. I’m deeply grateful to Senator Miller for his years of hard work and leadership on this issue, and I’m incredibly proud to have been part of reaching this point. I also want to thank President Ruggerio for his support throughout this process. Ending cannabis prohibition helps us right past wrongs while creating new opportunities for all Rhode Islanders. This is the right move, at the right time, for our state.”

Jared Moffat of Regulate RI and the Marijuana Policy Project

Jared Moffat, long active in the RI legalization effort since his days as a Brown University student and now state campaigns manager for the national Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release, “We are grateful to Rep. Scott Slater and Sen. Josh Miller for their years of leadership on this issue. Rhode Islanders should be proud of their lawmakers for passing a legalization bill that features strong provisions to promote equity and social justice. We’re also thankful to Rep. Leonela Felix who advocated tirelessly for the inclusion of an automatic expungement provision that will clear tens of thousands of past cannabis possession convictions.”

In addition to Miller, the Senate bill was co-sponsored by Sens. McCaffrey, Goodwin, Ruggerio, Coyne, Pearson, Acosta, Kallman, Archambault, and Murray. In addition to Slater, the House bill was co-sponsored by Reps. Hull, Williams, Kazarian, Solomon, McNamara, O’Brien, Potter, Bennett, and Morales.

Motif has made available the portions of the full House and Senate sessions relevant to the Cannabis Act:

  video and audio audio only
Senate (34m) (38.5MB) (4.1MB)
House (2h02m) (138.5MB) (14.6MB)

 




Greater RI protections for wiretap warrants: No federal “good-faith” exception to exclusionary rule

RI Supreme and Superior Court Building, Providence.
(Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel, via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0)

The RI Supreme Court this morning (May 5) ruled unanimously, 5-0, in a consolidated case involving multiple criminal defendants (State v. Deric S. McGuire et al.) that a failure to follow strict state law requirements for wiretap warrants totally invalidates those warrants, justifying a suppressing of evidence for all of the fruits of the invalid warrants. While recognizing that federal jurisprudence might allow a “good-faith” exception to admit the evidence because none of the parties intended to break the law regarding wiretap warrants, the Court ruled the RI State Constitution provides greater protection against warrantless searches and seizures and therefore no “good-faith” exception applies.

The RI Supreme Court quotes its own prior ruling in Pimental v. Department of Transportation, 561 A.2d 1348, 1350 (R.I. 1989), that “[t]he [United States] Supreme Court… has recognized the right and power of state courts as final interpreters of state law ‘to impose higher standards on searches and seizures under state constitutions than required by the Federal Constitution.’” Pimental held that traffic stop roadblocks looking for drunk drivers were unconstitutional in RI, despite being allowed under federal law and used in other states.

The Court explained the background of McGuire: “These consolidated cases arose from a Rhode Island State Police investigation into alleged outlaw motorcycle gangs, which led to an indictment in November 2018 against forty-one defendants charging 424 criminal counts, including possession of and possession with intent to deliver controlled substances, conspiracy, and unlawful possession of firearms. As part of the investigation, from May 2017 through May 2018, an Assistant Attorney General presented applications for several orders authorizing the interception of wire, electronic, and oral communications and orders extending, amending, or terminating the wiretaps (the wiretap orders).”

The error arose because the RI Wiretap Act, §12-5.1-3, specifically requires that wiretap orders be issued by either the presiding justice of the Superor Court, Alice B. Gibney, or, if she is disqualified for any reason, by the senior associate justice, Robert D. Krause. When Gibney took medical leave, she designated Krause to act as presiding justice under §8-3-4. However, because Krause managed the court gun calendar, Gibney designated another associate justice, Melanie Wilk Thunberg, to handle wiretap orders. When Gibney returned from medical leave and resumed her duties, relieving Krause of his status as acting presiding justice, she left wiretap orders assigned to Thunberg who had been handling them. (The only other authority specifically restricted to the presiding justice is that of granting immunity from prosecution under §12-17-15.)

When criminal charges were filed, the numerous defendants moved to suppress evidence gained from the wiretaps, arguing the specific provisions of the Wiretap Act superseded the general provisions of statute elsewhere, making the warrants invalid because they were issued by Thunberg, who while an associate justice was neither the presiding justice nor the most senior associate justice, the only two authorized to issue wiretap warrants. The trial court agreed with the defendants and ordered the evidence flowing from the wiretaps to be excluded so it could not be used against them.

Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court affirming the decision of the Superior Court trial proceeding below, went out of her way to emphasize repeatedly that neither the Attorney General nor the Superior Court justices involved thought they were doing anything wrong: “…it is manifest on the record before us that all executive and judicial officers involved in this series of events acted in the best interest of the State of Rhode Island, and that Justice Thunberg was a neutral and detached judicial officer who is highly competent to perform such an endeavor. However, she simply lacked the statutory authority to receive the applications and issue the wiretap orders. Thus, we conclude that the wiretap orders were invalid, and, consequently, the interception of communications pursuant to those orders amounted to ‘unauthorized intrusions’ into these defendants’ private communications.”

Firstly, the Supreme Court held that the issuance of the wiretap warrants was clearly invalid, as the specific provisions of the Wiretap Act were violated.

Secondly, the Court held that suppression of the evidence was the correct remedy. The state argued that precedent had allowed evidence to be used despite technical defects in search warrants that incorrectly omitted mandatory language, but the Court held that to be a much less serious matter, citing a series of previous rulings going back to 1975 that held wiretap warrants to a higher standard than ordinary search warrants.

Thirdly, and most importantly as future precedent, the Court held that no “good-faith” exception applies to an invalid wiretap warrant as might be allowed under federal law: “Alternatively, the state asks this Court to adopt the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule as provided for in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). In Leon, the United States Supreme Court created an exception to the exclusionary rule ‘when an officer acting with objective good faith has obtained a search warrant from a judge or magistrate and acted within its scope.’… We are hard-pressed to conceive that a judicially-created exception to a judicially-created exclusionary rule, such as the Leon good-faith rule, is applicable to the strict statutory mandates under review in these cases.” In other words, the RI Supreme Court explicitly held that evidence that is the fruit of an invalid wiretap warrant is inadmissible at trial and must be excluded because of state law, even if it would be admissible under federal law, recognizing that Rhode Island citizens have greater constitutional protections against improper search and seizure.




My friend, killed by the government: Stop the carnage

A few months ago, a friend of mine was killed by government policy.

This may seem an extreme claim, but my friend was attending a house party, like those which happen all the time. Someone offered him cannabis, and he accepted. Laced with fentanyl, it killed him.

Fentanyl is a dangerous opioid and the main driver in a crisis of fatalities, but my friend was not a user of prescription pharmaceuticals such as oxycodone or street drugs such as heroin. He was just a person with no known addictions or history of substance abuse, socially using cannabis at a party.

It’s a mystery why anyone would lace cannabis with fentanyl. Since July 2021, Connecticut “received reports of overdose patients who have exhibited opioid overdose symptoms and required naloxone for revival. These patients denied any opioid use and claimed to have only smoked marijuana.” In November, Connecticut was able to obtain a sample of the cannabis used and confirmed the presence of fentanyl in laboratory tests. The party my friend attended was in Rhode Island, but the RI State Health Laboratory said that, as of March 28, they “have not identified any fentanyl laced marijuana in Rhode Island to date.” Yet it happened, and my friend is dead.

As recently as March 25, the Congressional Research Service issued an analysis explaining the status of cannabis under US federal law: “Schedule I substances are considered to have a ‘high potential for abuse’ with ‘no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.’ The [Controlled Substances Act] prohibits the manufacture, distribution, dispensation, and possession of Schedule I substances except for federal government-approved research studies.” Science has learned a lot In the half-century since Congress put cannabis on the Schedule I list in 1970, but only Congress can fix this and there has been no political will to do so.

Almost seven years ago, I wrote (“Opinion: Will Rhode Island Surrender Yet Another Industry?”, by Michael Bilow, Jun 4, 2015), “Recreational use of marijuana, though illegal, is mainstream.” I cited the most recent data available as of 2011-2012 from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health conducted by the federal government, reporting that in RI among 18-25 year-olds 30.16% had used cannabis and 40.49% had used tobacco within the past month. Looking at the most recent 2019-2020 data – samhsa.gov/data/report/2019-2020-nsduh-state-specific-tables (Table 90A) – the percentage in RI among 18-25 year-olds within the past month has increased to 36.26% for cannabis use and decreased to 22.14% for tobacco use; the national averages (Table 2A) are now 23.02% for cannabis use and 21.77% for tobacco use. As I wrote in 2015, “It is now beyond serious dispute that the ‘war on drugs,’ insofar as it targets marijuana, has been lost. No matter what anyone asserts about the negative effects on health or otherwise, in a democratic society making criminals of a third of the young adult population is an abuse of the police power of the state…”

This country experimented with alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933 with consequences now universally recognized as disastrous. Not only was prohibition widely flouted, directly causing a boom in organized crime to supply the strong demand on the black market, but quality control was impossible as illegal makers used harmful ingredients and unsanitary equipment to satisfy the market. In an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people, permanent nerve damage was caused. It became so common that “jake leg” disease, the partial or complete loss of use of hands and feet caused by toxins in Jamaican ginger, was the subject of dozens of blues songs and an instantly recognizable cultural phenomenon in the early 1930s.

Today, any eligible adult can buy alcoholic beverages from a reputable liquor store, from a reputable maker, meeting standards of quality and purity that are enforced by government regulation and inspection. Alcohol still certainly causes social problems, but no one has been poisoned by anything like “jake leg” disease in almost a century, and that epidemic and its tens of thousands of victims have been completely forgotten except by blues music historians.

Tobacco is enormously harmful but, as noted above, between 2012 and 2020 use among those between 18 and 25 decreased by half for a completely legal product. Does anyone seriously believe that prohibition would have helped?

The reason my friend who was killed by unknowingly and unintentionally ingesting fentanyl could not get quality-controlled cannabis was because there are still draconian government policies preventing it. Although more and more states have legalized recreational use of cannabis, the growers and sellers are banned by federal regulation from using the banking system, forced to operate like the organized crime syndicates of alcohol prohibition despite their desire to become legitimate businesses. Further, as states see cannabis as a cash cow target for disproportionate and excessive taxes, they encourage the survival of the established black market. As Pat Oglesby, former chief tax counsel to the US Senate Finance Committee said in a forum at Brown University that I covered in 2014, cannabis is an ordinary agricultural product, “kind of like oregano,” whose price results from artificial scarcity attributed solely to its illegality.

RI may finally this year legalize recreational use of cannabis, creating a white market for growers and sellers. While this is a step forward, progress is hardly guaranteed. The federal legal restrictions will remain for the foreseeable future. If the state imposes taxes that are too high instead of reasonable taxes comparable to alcohol, customers will be encouraged to stick with the black market. If licenses for sellers are plagued by cronyism, not exactly unprecedented in RI, that will also harm fair operation of the market, possibly even giving sellers monopoly power that disadvantages growers and buyers. The devil is in the details.

My friend was someone I knew primarily from literary circles, and I would often see him at plays and readings, especially in the gothic horror community. While it often directly addresses the subject of death, “The gothic is an entertainment, walking on a tightrope over a dark view of life. I call this ‘the smile behind the skull,’” as poet Brett Rutherford said years ago. Real death – especially sudden, unexpected, and senseless – is simply a tragedy.

No matter how federal and state law changes, my friend is still dead. Unless cannabis is allowed to become a legitimate business as reputable and responsible as the trade in alcohol, a lot of unfortunate recreational cannabis users may join him. He doesn’t need the company.

SIDEBAR

Motif is committed to community harm reduction efforts and will host a table distributing, for free, naloxone (Narcan) overdose first-aid treatment and test kits that can detect fentanyl at our 2022 Tattoo Awards Ceremony beginning 6pm on April 12 at the Narragansett Brewery, 271 Tockwotton St, PVD. These materials will be provided by the Hope Recovery CORE (Community Outreach Response Efforts) Team, part of the Parent’s Support Network of RI – psnri.org/our-services/peer-recovery-outreach.html – funded by the Rhode Island Department of Health. The CORE Team also provides support and referrals to inpatient treatment, medication assisted treatment, recovery housing, self-help-based support, Peer Recovery Support, HIV/HCV testing, and basic needs assistance.




Additional COVID-19 vaccine booster dose: For everyone age 50+ and immunocompromised age 12+

Today, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended a second booster dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (that is, either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) for everyone age 50 and older at least four months after their prior booster dose, with a strong recommendation for everyone age 65 or older and for those age 50 and older with underlying medical conditions.

For those who are immunocompromised, an additional Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine booster dose is authorized for anyone age 12 and older and an additional Moderna vaccine booster dose is authorized for anyone age 18 and older, at least four months after their prior booster dose of any authorized vaccine.

At the option of the recipient, booster doses can be of a different brand as prior doses, for example following a Pfizer-BioNTech dose with a Moderna dose.

For persons who are younger than age 50 and are not immunocompromised, the recommendation of a single booster dose after a two-dose primary sequence remains unchanged. According to the FDA, a first booster dose provides significant and substantial protection against hospitalization and death, including against circulating variants such as Delta and Omicron, for most people, but data from Israel shows that a second booster is of value for those whose immune systems are less robust because of age or other reasons.

Separately, regardless of age every adult who received both a primary single dose and booster dose of Johnson and Johnson (Janssen) vaccine at least four months ago may now receive a second booster dose using an mRNA (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) vaccine.

“Current evidence suggests some waning of protection over time against serious outcomes from COVID-19 in older and immunocompromised individuals. Based on an analysis of emerging data, a second booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could help increase protection levels for these higher-risk individuals,” said Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Additionally, the data show that an initial booster dose is critical in helping to protect all adults from the potentially severe outcomes of COVID-19. So, those who have not received their initial booster dose are strongly encouraged to do so.”

Marks of the FDA held a media briefing available on YouTube, and among other issues said that in coming months there may be a need for variant-specific vaccines but this is not yet known.

CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, said, “Today, CDC expanded eligibility for an additional booster dose for certain individuals who may be at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. Boosters are safe, and people over the age of 50 can now get an additional booster four months after their prior dose to increase their protection further. This is especially important for those 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease from COVID-19 as they are the most likely to benefit from receiving an additional booster dose at this time. CDC, in collaboration with FDA and our public health partners, will continue to evaluate the need for additional booster doses for all Americans.”

In response to an inquiry from Motif, the RI Department of Health (RIDOH) restated the new federal recommendation and said, “If you have questions about whether a second booster dose is right for you, talk to your healthcare provider.” RIDOH confirmed that the additional booster dose, which is identically formulated to primary doses, would be available from any state-run facility or private pharmacy from which vaccine is ordinarily available.




Ukraine vigil Sat, Mar 26, 4pm, RI State House: Interfaith humanitarian relief effort

“Rhode Island Stand with Ukraine” poster for vigil Sat, Mar 26, 2022, 4pm, at the State House. The QR code is a link to donate for humanitarian relief via UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) USA.

An umbrella group calling itself “Rhode Islanders for Ukraine” announced a vigil in support of the Eastern European nation, now fighting against an invasion by Russia, to be held Saturday, March 26, at 4pm on the south side of the RI State House, “to pray and raise financial support for humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine. This is a bipartisan effort with neighbors representing many of the world’s religions coming together in a moment of unity to encourage not only peace for Ukraine but also assist in supporting the tremendous number of refugees in their plight.”

The poster circulated by the group includes a QR code to a donation link for humanitarian relief via UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) USA: unicefusa.org/stories/unicef-children-crossfire-ukraine-crisis/39542?form=FUNCZQQBUQH&fundraiser=NYYESSQW

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported 3.7 million people forced by the war to flee to neighboring countries, primarily Poland and Romania, as of Mar 23 daily data. The UN International Office for Migration reported 6.5 million people internally displaced as of Mar 21, forced by the war to abandon their homes seeking refuge elsewhere within the country. Ukraine has a total population of 42 million, not counting 2 million in the Crimea and Sevastopol regions invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014.

This vigil is separate from, and could be interpreted as opposing, the weekly demonstration held on the opposite side of the State House at the same time that advocates for a strictly pacifist view, including dismantling NATO and stopping military aid to Ukraine.




Saturday 3am-7pm rain then possible snow: Little accumulation

At Providence, rain Saturday with temperatures in the 40s until 4pm, with decreasing temperatures possibly causing a change to snow for a short time before ending 7pm. Flash freezing as temperatures drop to the low 20s overnight could cause slippery road conditions from wet surfaces.

Median accumulation forecast is a fraction of an inch, with probabilities 68% for at least 0.1 in, 32% for 1 in, 12% for 2 in, and near 0% for 4 in.




Retail Gasoline Price Increases: The crude truth

As retail gasoline prices rise above $4.00 per gallon, a lot of misinformation and even disinformation is circulating purporting to explain this. Let’s try to get to the real reasons.

Gasoline edging toward $4.00/gallon on Mar 8, 2022, in Seekonk, MA.
(Photo: MIchael Bilow)

The historical peak for retail gasoline was in 2008 when the consumer price reached what would be $5.20 per gallon today, adjusted for inflation, and we are still far from that. According to the widely cited AAA tracker, as of Mar 9, the average retail price in RI is $4.287; it was $3.624 a week ago, $3.468 a month ago and $2.706 a year ago. Why?

The gasoline price at the pump is 15% taxes, 16% distribution and marketing, 14% refining, and 56% crude oil, according to the US Energy Information Administration. (Diesel is about the same, although refining is slightly more expensive.) Crude oil, of course, is the big variable.

Crude oil is a commodity traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) where its price is determined by open and public auction between buyers and sellers. Supply and demand causes the price to change: when there is an imbalance in favor of supply the price goes down; when there is an imbalance in favor of demand the price goes up.

Cost factors of retail motor fuel.
(Source: https://www.eia.gov/petroleum/gasdiesel/ )

In the market there are two main types of crude oil: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent, both of which are similar and easy to refine into useful consumer products such as gasoline. The primary difference is that WTI is the benchmark in the US and Brent is the benchmark everywhere else. Brent is the pricing benchmark for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), an international cartel that tries (usually unsuccessfully) to manipulate supply. Sometimes one is cheaper than the other, but generally they track closely together.

Most of the trading action is in “futures,” which are contracts for the delivery of product some number of months in advance. Producers of crude oil can offer a contract now and buyers will pay cash to obtain the right to buy at a specific time and specific “strike” price. The cash can then be used to fund the production process, including exploring, drilling, mining, and transporting. Buyers are guaranteed future supply at a fixed price: if the market price of crude oil rises above the strike price specified in the contract, they can sell the contract itself at a profit.

What is essential to understand is that the price rises and falls based on the consensus expectations of the mass of buyers and sellers participating in the market. Trading futures contracts reflects not supply and demand in buying and selling of actual oil, but predictions about what the supply and demand will be in the future. Anyone can look up the current price of oil futures on the NYMEX. For example, at the moment, the contract for delivery of one barrel in April is $124.66 (-10.06% today), in May is $120.66 (-11.59%), in June is $116.50 (-11.96%), and so on. This means the instantaneous market consensus is (more participants believe) that the crude oil price will fall rather than rise.

Obviously, the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has spooked the oil market, but the actual cost of energy is not yet reflected in retail prices that are instead being driven by worries about the future.

The recent gasoline price spike almost entirely reflects market psychology and worries about the future. Existing markets have figured in the consolidated expectations of many buyers and sellers as to how difficult it will be to obtain reliable supply in the coming weeks and months, and distilled that down to price changes. Energy is inherently a worldwide concern and is fungible: Although the US has robust sources, shortages in Europe or Asia will drive up prices everywhere. No one can control the market, neither big oil companies nor governments.

Now that you know what really determines the price of crude oil, the major variable factor influencing the price of retail gasoline, what other oil-related ideas are true or false?

The US public assigns blame by preconceived assumptions, not facts

YouGov: Who would you blame most for rising gas prices?
(Source: https://today.yougov.com/topics/science/survey-results/daily/2022/03/09/fbad0/3 )

A YouGov survey asking “Who would you blame most for rising gas prices?” found that the public overall was evenly split, Biden 36% and Putin 35%. But there was enormous partisan polarization:

Party Biden Putin
Democrats 10% 59%
Republicans 70% 16%
Independents 40% 30%

The US is the world’s largest oil producer

About 15% of the world oil supply comes from the US, with Russia second at 13% and Saudi Arabia third at 12%. After that, Iraq is fourth at 6% and Canada fifth at 5%.

The US imports little crude oil from the Middle East and almost none from Russia

When the US imports crude oil, 61% is from Canada and 11% is from Mexico. Only 8% is from Saudi Arabia and 3% is from Iraq. Rounding out the top five sources of crude oil imports to the US, Colombia (in South America) accounts for 4%.

The US is a net exporter of oil and has been since 2020

US becomes a net exporter of oil.
(Source: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/oil-and-petroleum-products/imports-and-exports.php )

Although the US imports more crude oil than it exports, so much of it is refined for export that overall the US exports more oil than it imports. In other words, the rest of the world is paying the US to employ its superior refining technology.

Different sources have different costs

Oil comes from a lot of different sources in different places. Some is harder to extract and some is easier, so the costs vary among these sources. As the market price falls, more expensive sources become unprofitable and are taken off-line; as the market price rises, more expensive sources become profitable and are brought on-line. The process of physically enabling and disabling sources of supply takes months, so it always lags behind demand.

There are also costs that vary geographically: labor is paid more in developed countries such as the US than in developing countries, so often leases remain unused for production simply because it is cheaper to produce oil outside the US. This is why, with crude oil prices at historical lows until recently, US oil production decreased.

Consumer behavior and demand is changed by price

When gasoline prices spiked in 2008, so many commuters in RI decided to switch to RIPTA instead of private cars that buses had to skip picking up passengers because they were already full. Unfortunately, much of RIPTA funding comes from the gasoline tax, so a decrease in demand for gasoline reduces funding for public transit.

Federal government policies have little effect on the price of energy

Criticism of the Biden administration for canceling the Keystone XL pipeline project, regardless of one’s view on whether the decision was correct, ignores the fact that no fuel would have passed through it until 2030 at the earliest, so far into the future that it has no current effect on prices or supply.

Similarly, controversy about shutting down the Canadian Line 5 pipeline under the Great Lakes has misrepresented it as a US federal government proposal somehow connected with climate change, when in fact it has been the State of Michigan concerned that the pipeline, in operation since 1953, poses a danger of leakage and widespread contamination of fresh water supplies.

Biden administration leasing policies are constrained by court orders

Ironically, a legal dispute over climate change has tied the hands of the Biden administration from issuing oil and gas leases. Estimating the “social cost” of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, the Trump administration set a valuation of $7 per ton on the grounds that effects outside the US did not have to be counted, while the Biden administration set $51 per ton after taking into account worldwide effects. Eleven states with Republican attorneys general sued to overturn the change, and a federal court blocked it. The practical result was to leave the federal government with no legally valid number, and therefore no way to evaluate applications, freezing the lease review process.

Europe has a huge problem because of dependence on Russian energy

Russia crude oil exports by destination.
(Source: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=22392 )

While the US has the luxury of banning Russian oil imports as Biden did yesterday, Europe is far worse off depending on Russia for 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil. All European countries are not in the same position either: Russia supplies Poland with 67% of its natural gas but Ireland with only 5%. Experts estimate, that Europe could replace 85%–90% of Russian natural gas with some combination of imported liquified natural gas (LNG) shipped by boat, mostly from the US, and expansion of renewable sources. No one knows what the economic and political effects would be of a large cutoff that could result in sharp inflationary price increases and even rationing. Retail gasoline in most of Europe already costs more than the equivalent of $8.33 per gallon.

Russia faces economic devastation if Europe drastically cuts imports

Russia oil exports by destination.
(Source: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=33732 )

Russia gets about two-thirds of its export revenues from energy, so any sizable reduction would result in severe damage to its economy, plunging the nation into real poverty well beyond what any sanctions could do by focusing on currency exchange and the banking system. The European Union’s stated plan to try to eliminate two-thirds of its energy imports from Russia by the end of this year is uncharted territory.




Wednesday 10am-9pm snow: 1-3 inches accumulation

At Providence, snow is likely Wed 10am-9pm. Although the precipitation will fall as snow, in the metropolitan area temperatures several degrees above freezing are likely to reduce ground accumulation, and temperatures are not expected to fall below freezing until very late overnight shortly before Thu sunrise, rising to an afternoon high of 50F.

Median accumulation forecast is 1 inch, with probabilities 83% for at least 0.1 in, 55% for 1 in, 16% for 2 in, and near 0% for 4 in.




RI COVID-19 Test Standing Order: Allows direct billing insurance at pharmacies

Under a new standing order, every person in RI with either Medicaid or private health insurance should be able to pick up COVID-19 rapid antigen test (RAT) kits from any pharmacy without having to pay up-front.

Despite a federal government mandate that health insurers must cover up to eight kits per month for every covered individual, carriers instructed pharmacies to require up-front payment for which customers could seek reimbursement unless they had a prescription. This policy applied even to very low-income insured persons, including those on Medicaid, for whom the cash requirement and paperwork hassle are prohibitive.

Standing Order for All Rhode Island Pharmacies Over-the-Counter (OTC) Home COVID-19 Tests All Types of Home Kits

As we reported previously (“News Analysis – Failure on COVID-19 rapid testing availability: Insurers game the system”, by Michael Bilow, Feb 6, 2022), to solve this problem the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “recommended that states issue a standing order for pharmacies for tests, including over-the-counter tests, as opposed to requiring a prescription per person to alleviate beneficiary and provider burden.”

The RI Department of Health (RIDOH) in response to repeated inquiries from Motif said that such a standing order was under consideration, but finally advised that it had been issued. (Download it from motifri.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/RI-COVID-home-test-standing-order-f.pdf.) The order states: “Suzanne Bornschein, MD, being an actively licensed Rhode Island physician, shall serve as the prescribing physician for this standing order… The general public may visit a participating pharmacy on a walk-in basis to receive any type of OTC COVID-19 test kit, up to 8 tests per individual per month.” The protocol per the order is: “Individuals shall provide their insurance information and required patient demographics to the pharmacist/pharmacy staff and request that the test be billed to their health insurance company. The pharmacist/pharmacy shall enter Dr. Suzanne Bornschein M.D. as the prescribing provider when submitting the claim to the third-party insurance carrier.”

Families on the same insurance plan are eligible for RAT kits on an individual basis, so a family of four would be eligible for eight each, or 32 tests, per month.

Motif has received reports that many pharmacies are out of stock on RAT kits, but has been unable to determine the scope of the problem.

Medicare (as opposed to Medicaid) patients are not covered for RAT kits but are eligible for PCR tests.

In addition, every residential address in the US can order four more RAT kits for free, even if they have previously ordered an initial four tests, through an official government web page: covidtests.gov (which currently redirects to a site operated by the US Postal Service special.usps.com/testkits). Persons need enter only their name and shipping address to place a free order, and optionally can enter an e-mail address to be notified about order progress.




Neo-Nazi Protesters at Red Ink: Disrupt community library reading

Neo-Nazi protesters waving flags emblazoned with a swastika, “SS” runes, and a “Totenkopf” (death’s head) disrupted an event at Red Ink Community Library on Cypress Street near Billy Taylor Park in Providence. The reading at 6pm on Monday, Feb 21, was intended to commemorate the 174th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto as part of international Red Books Day. 

“The Red Ink Community Library is an independent… lending library and reading room, and organizing space in the Mount Hope neighborhood of Providence,” David Raileanu, director of Red Ink, told Motif. “We had about six or seven people indoors plus another 10 or so who were watching the live stream” on Facebook, he said.

Neo-Nazi flag displayed outside Red Ink Community Library, Feb 21, 2022. (Source: Still frame extracted from video on Twitter)

“It was around 6:40pm when there was a loud banging on the windows as well as shouting, some yelling coming from the sidewalk in the street. A couple of our members went outside to see what was going on and it was very apparent that a group of people who were wearing insignia associated with fascist and nazi groups were attempting to disrupt and ultimately disband our meeting,” Raileanu said. “It was very, very disruptive. So the people who went outside – I personally didn’t go outside and see what was happening – but the people who did told me that there were at least 20 or 30 people and as many as possibly 50 people outside. And so, being so significantly outnumbered, it was safer for all of us to stay indoors and tell them to go home and leave us alone. They did not do that. Apparently some people in the neighborhood called the police and after seven or eight minutes, five or six squad cars showed up and the disruptors outside started to disband.” A video clip of the angry demonstration was shared widely on social media

Asked about the reaction to the protest, Raileanu said, “I was inside. My perception was that it was terrifying, that there was a palpable sense of fear among the group, and yet everybody remained calm and resilient and maintained an admirable sense of poise in the face of what appeared to be imminent danger.”

Raileanu said no one in his organization called the police. On Twitter, the Red Ink account wrote, “The Nazis continued to put on their show until Providence Police asked them to leave. While we didn’t ask for help from the police, it was only the threat of state violence that ended this disruption.”

“They were shouting for probably 10 minutes, I think, and then it was another 10 minutes or so [after the police began to arrive], so altogether the incident lasted less than 30 minutes. We were able to regroup as a meeting around 7:15pm,” Raileanu said. “The police came back and spoke to us. They said that they saw the people who came to disrupt the meeting get into their cars and go home, but that they would leave a squad car here just to make sure that we were able to finish.” Raileanu said he was not aware of any personal injury or property damage.

According to the Providence Police report, at about 6:40pm, “District 8 and 9 received information and were advised a group of Neo Nazis were proceeding to the Red Ink Community Library… to interrupt the individuals who were inside attending a reading… Upon arrival we observed approximately 15-20 subjects (from the Neo Nazi group) standing outside and striking the front window of the Red Ink Community Library with their hands. As soon as all of the District 8 and 9 cars arrived on scene with the overhead emergency lights on, the neo-Nazi crowd began to disperse… Police did not observe any damage to the building.” The report confirms that a police car and an officer remained on the scene until about 8:15pm without further incident. The report also specifies that the police body-worn cameras were activated, but the footage has yet to be made public. 

No arrests or charges were reported. If the protesters stayed on the sidewalk, didn’t obstruct the storefront and committed no act of vandalism, then their actions may have been perfectly legal, regardless of the neo-Nazi banners and insignia, and as a result there was little the police could do to stop them beyond simply maintaining a presence.

Based on chants that included “131,” it is believed that the neo-Nazi protesters were affiliated with “NSC-131,” a Boston-based, far-right fascist group: “NSC” stands for “National Socialist Club” (“National Socialist” is the root of the term “Nazi”) and “131” is intended to represent the letters of the alphabet “ACA” that stands for “Anti-Communist Action.” The group claims to be active in the six New England states, including RI, and on fringe social media they frequently post video recordings of their protests. The FBI, with primary responsibility for monitoring organizations like NSC-131, declined comment to Motif.

“We had received a notice from Lucy Parsons Center and Democracy Center in Boston, back in October, that these kinds of groups did exist, and that we should be on the lookout for them,” said Raileanu. NSC-131 orchestrated a similar demonstration at the Lucy Parsons Center and has been identified as the group responsible for hanging white supremacist banners from highway bridges.

According to Raileanu, “Nothing has ever happened to Red Ink in the past. This place has been a joyous place, a place of celebration of socialist values and a place where we have found community and promoted knowledge and education. There have been no incidents up to this point.”

“We intend to be a celebration of socialist values: community, equality, knowledge and education,” Raileanu said. “If we are on the opposite side of fascists and nazis, we are on the right side.”

As a result of this incident, Red Ink has announced a virtual “community safety forum” at 11am, Saturday, Feb 26, on Zoom.

Additional reporting by Mike Ryan