Pubdate: Sun, 21 Feb 2016
Source: Day, The (New London,CT)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press


Providence (AP) - A push to legalize recreational marijuana in Rhode 
Island has won the support of a top lawmaker.

Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, a North Providence 
Democrat, has signed on as co-sponsor of a bill to treat marijuana 
like alcohol by legalizing, regulating and taxing it.

"It is an important conversation to have," Ruggerio said in a 
statement. "I have listened to the debate regarding legalization of 
marijuana over the years and watched the experience in states such as 
Colorado," which legalized the commercial sale of the drug.

The bill's main sponsor in the Senate, Democratic Sen. Joshua Miller, 
of Cranston, had introduced his long-shot legislation for several 
years without success but said there is more momentum this year. 
Other lawmakers might take the legislation more seriously when 
there's support from people in leadership positions, Miller said.

"It's not outlier legislation," he said Friday.

Miller said he also thinks the push for similar legislation in other 
New England states will help. He points to Vermont, where lawmakers 
are advancing a bill, and Massachusetts, which might ask voters in 
the November election.

Ruggerio did not co-sponsor the bill last year. It stalled in the 
judiciary committee.

"I believe that removing marijuana from the black market may make our 
communities safer," Ruggerio said. He said Miller's bill includes 
important safeguards and will bring money to the state.

A companion bill is being introduced in the Rhode Island House. 
Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told the Providence 
Journal that while legalizing marijuana is not currently on his 
agenda for the session, he'll keep an open mind.

Miller was guardedly optimistic that the legislation could pass.

"Every year we get more and more support," he said. "Whether we have 
enough support this year is something that remains to be seen as we 
go forward and make our case. I'm optimistic."

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has separately unveiled a plan to tax 
medical marijuana plants.

Medical marijuana advocates are opposing the proposed annual fee, and 
Miller said Raimondo's plan would make more sense for plants not used 
as medicine.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom