Now that marijuana has been legalized, there are questions about what it might look like here in East Greenwich.
The state commission will be designating where in 6 zones the 24 pot shops will go (there are medical marijuana dispensaries in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth now, with six more in the planning stages). Each community is an “opt in” for a shop unless it holds a referendum and local voters decide they do not want one. There are financial repercussions. If a community says it does not want a marijuana store in their community, they will not receive any revenue from the state tax on marijuana sales. All other communities will get some of the tax receipts, with an additional 3 percent for those communities that actually end up with a store.
The Town Council will be discussing whether or not to put a referendum on the November ballot at their meeting Monday, June 13, according to Mark Schwager. They will also address possible zoning changes.
“Do nothing and we are automatically in the pool for potential recipients of a license but that doesn’t mean the community will get a license,” said Town Manager Andy Nota. “The greatest amount of revenue comes to communities with a store in your town.”
East Greenwich could vote against having a store, he said, but “we’re a little, tiny state. We have neighbors really close by. We’re going to be affected no matter what. The result of it being everywhere else in the state, we’re still going to have the challenges.”
The town’s drug and youth counselor, Bob Houghtaling, framed the town’s decision as a moral issue.
“Do you want to benefit financially from situations that haven’t been fully thought out?” he said. To the argument that they are selling it in Warwick so why not sell it in East Greenwich, he said,
“That’s like saying, if you’re a parent, and Mrs. Johnson’s going to allow the drinking party, are you going to do it to be the cool one? I think you stand for something.”
Houghtaling said he is glad to see the decriminalization of marijuana, noting the vast numbers of people, often people of color, who have been incarcerated for pot-related offenses over the years. But, he said, “I think we rushed [legalization] a little bit by not factoring in additional safety measures. Some of the major concerns I have about marijuana is highway safety and a minimization of its potency and some of the messages it gives young people.”
While he acknowledges drunk driving remains a serious problem, he said at least there were ways to measure if a person has been drinking. “The highway safety thing really scares me a little bit because there’s no measurement to test impairment.”
He pushes back against the idea that pot is innocuous.
“Any time you have to use the word ‘recreation’ and it includes a drug, I don’t know if that’s a good idea. It’s almost like thinking alcohol is going to promote happiness with happy hours.”
Houghtaling said gummies in particular were troubling.
“The whole notion of gummies and this innocuous packaging. It’s almost like going to Yellowstone Park and playing with the bears and not recognizing the danger,” he said. “That’s going to be one of the challenges for communities: how are you going to keep it out of the hands of kids?”
Police Chief Stephen Brown said he didn’t anticipate a huge uptick in marijuana-related traffic stops. Today a driver can be charged with being under the influence of something other than alcohol. There is no chemical test that shows a person’s recent use of marijuana – marijuana can be detected in a person’s system for several days, which makes it less useful in determining culpability. Brown said field sobriety tests and observation still hold a lot of weight in terms of showing impairment of any kind. He added the “vast majority” of DUIs are alcohol related.
He said during his time at the EGPD, he didn’t know of a serious accident where the cause of the crash was linked to marijuana use.
“Everyone’s talking about smoking, smoking, smoking – that’s the potential nuisance aspect,” he said. “But with sales, the edibles are very popular. We’re not going to know about that if somebody pops a gummy.”
Brown said the town could adopt laws about using marijuana in public spaces, much like the ban on open containers of alcohol. Smoking ordinances are valid for marijuana, so there will be no lighting up in restaurants or on town and school properties. One of the immediate affects of the law is it’s now legal for a person to have up to an ounce of marijuana on their person (it had been a civil fine); possession of between 1 to 2 ounces will now result in a civil fine. Residents can grow up to six plants (three mature or “dried”).
Retail sales can begin Dec. 1; it’s unclear if stores will be open by then.