Meanwhile in Rhode Island…
Rhode Island’s business community appears almost evenly divided on the legalization of marijuana.
With their applause, however, the hundreds of business executives gathered Wednesday for a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce luncheon let lawmakers know how strongly they feel about setting their own rules on how that might work in their own workplaces.
“Let me just throw out the chamber’s view on the issue and that is, the right of employers to be able to have the type of workplace that they want and to preserve the right of employers to have in fact a drug-free workplace,″ said the Chamber’s president, Laurie White.
The moment came during a question-and-answer exchange between White and Rhode Island’s legislative leaders after a poll of the room — using a cellphone app — indicated the luncheon crowd favored legalization 52% to 48%, which in a political poll could be described as a “dead heat.”
But one by one, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, the House and Senate majority leaders, K. Joseph Shekarchi and Michael McCaffrey, and the House and Senate Republican leaders, Blake Filippi and Dennis Algiere, responded.
“I think it’s de facto legal now. It’s easier for kids to get their hands on pot than alcohol. I think it should be regulated,″ said Filippi.
But none of the others on the stage with him at the Rhode Island Convention Center voiced interest in legalization this year and the creation of the state-run marijuana sales network that Gov. Gina Raimondo has proposed.
Mattiello said the near-50-50 split “probably reflects what’s going on in society. There is not a clear mandate.” Among the many questions he cited: “How you retail it: I am always concerned with government regulation and government control,″ and in the Raimondo proposed scenario, “one vendor controls all the marijuana across the state….The state is creating millionaires and ultimately, we are going to create billionaires unnecessarily.
“Let the marketplace do its job, if we ever legalize marijuana. And leave it up to the cities and towns,” he said. “The state does not do a great job regulating.”
The Q & A covered a lot of ground, with Ruggerio seizing the opportunity to talk once again about the need to build more homes, including homes in the $200,000-to-$325,000 range, to accommodate a growing workforce in Rhode Island.
At one point, Shekarchi, the House majority leader, defended the use of tax credits and other incentives to lure and keep businesses here. “Nobody likes to give money away for a business, but that’s a reality that we live in. I mean some of my progressive friends on the left say ‘no subsidies, corporate welfare,’ and I understand their point of view but I disagree with it … because we are in an environment where … Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, all the states all up and down the East Coast and across the country … are giving incentives.
“If we don’t do it, we are unilaterally disarming our state,″ said Shekarchi, signaling his own willingness to give the Hasbro toy company “some kind of incentive package” if that’s what it takes to keep the company here.
But the second applause line of the night followed Filippi’s explanation of his earlier call for giving parents of children in failing schools the opportunity to send their children to other public schools in the state, where there are openings.
“There’s approximately 19,000 vacant seats in non-urban core school districts in the state…. I do not see why a child from Providence cannot fill one of those chairs and brighten their future, because right now we are letting a generation down. It is the civil-rights issue of our time…. It is an economic development issue ,and if we fail to fix this problem, we are going to be facing headwinds for generations to come.”