Cannabis in RI Government

Recently, cannabis has been making an appearance in several state legislations. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis through legislation. Maine’s House endorsed a bill to set regulatory guidelines for the state’s new recreational law, which, while it still needs approval from both chambers of legislation, stands a very good chance of passing. Rhode Island has also had several bills introduced into the House.

One of these bills, introduced by Rep. Scott Slater, would allow for school nurses to administer non-smokeable marijuana to students during the school day. This piece of legislation would be a landmark public health decision, as cannabis is prohibited in schools and hospitals nationwide. Due to the extreme restrictions and almost non-existent exceptions, students who use cannabis for debilitating conditions, like epilepsy, must be homeschooled in order to take their medicine. These students already have a life-threatening condition that significantly sets them apart from their peers; to be able to attend public school and socialize and participate in everyday activities with their classmates would be life changing. The bill also protects the nurses from criminal prosecution.

A second piece of legislature in the house is an amendment to the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, which regulates the medical marijuana program in Rhode Island. Part of this amendment explicitly prohibits employers from refusing to hire, discharge or otherwise discriminate against a patient who tests positive on a drug screening for marijuana and metabolites. This excludes if the patient was in possession or under the influence of marijuana on the job site. This is a very helpful amendment for patients who use cannabis for common ailments like pain or trouble sleeping, and consume their medicine in the evening when the possible effect of euphoria wouldn’t affect their ability to work. Many patients are concerned about repercussions at work, despite using their medicine responsibly. This would be an acknowledgement from the state that everyday employees use cannabis as part of their health and wellness routines.

The most important bill in the House at the moment is House Bill 7883, which seeks to add a non-binding referendum to the midterm election ballot this fall. This referendum would ask the public the question, “Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?” While this seems redundant to the polls that have been conducted in the state, it actually will be far more effective for data analysis. Currently, the voters in the state assume that their representatives are upholding the overwhelming support for cannabis legalization in the state. However, the representatives are holding back until their direct constituents press them to take action. Because the midterm ballots would be organized by district, this would provide information for which districts are most interested in seeing legalization happen, and the representatives would have a better idea of how hard they need to be fighting for their constituents.