Rhode Island Bill

By: Shont Voskerijian – Hofsra Law School – Law Student Contributor

This past February Rhode Island introduced a bill that plans to regulate, legalize, and control marijuana consumption.  The bill is being introduced in Rhode Island’s State Senate through Senator Josh Miller and co-sponsored by the Democratic Majority leader, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and 13 other members.  The bill also has a strong support in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.[1]  Representative Scott Slater introduced the bill in the House and got support from Rep. Katherine Kazarian as well as many other Representatives.  For a controversial bill such as this one, it is important to have the bill pass through both chambers.  This helps raise more awareness to the issue and puts more pressure on the Governor to take action.  The bill has also gained a lot of support from an incredibly wide range of sources: local business owners, economists, social justice advocates, medical doctors, former law enforcement officials, clergy, and public health experts.[2] It is very interesting to see traditional nay-sayers support such a bill.  This is very groundbreaking because a similar bill has been proposed for the last 4 years, but has never been able to pass through the House.

With this bill Rhode Island continues to combat marijuana prohibition.  Originally, Rhode Island had a compassionate medical marijuana program to has been helping seriously sick individuals for almost 10 years.  Rhode Island’s law protected the patients (with a doctor’s note) from any incrimination. Then in 2012 Rhode Island advanced its fight against prohibition by reducing the penalty for possession for non-patients to a $150 fine and no jail-time.[3]

Governor Raimondo spoke out last week saying that she is open to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana either through legislation or a public referendum.  In fact, she is reaching out to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper – whose state legalized recreational use in 2012 – for some advice on the issue.  In Rhode Island, the General Assembly can pass a bill calling for a public referendum; but the Governor cannot work around the lawmakers and call for a public referendum without the General Assembly’s approval.[4]  Rhode Island seems to be answering to a public outcry.  Recent polls indicate that over 57% of voters are approving the bill and would like to see recreational use be legal.

Aside from recreational use, Governor Raimondo addressed her medical marijuana taxation issue.  Originally in her 2017 budget, the Governor planned to raise over $8.4 million in state revenue from new medical marijuana fees.  However that proved to be unpopular especially amongst private growers, otherwise nicknamed “caregivers”.[5]  These new taxes would force the caregivers to pay registration tags on each plant they grow.  The tax range would be $150-$30 per plant!  Although, the users would have to pay the brunt of this tax because the consequential price raise leaves the plant unaffordable to the consumer.  Medical marijuana patients have dubbed the tax as a tax on the sick.[6]  Although Governor Raimondo spoke about reducing her fee on the “caregivers”, she feels that the growers are in an unregulated market and should participate in some state tax scheme.  She feels that there is a way to reduce the proposed tax and still properly contribute in bringing in state revenue.  She is also considering lowering the fees for caregivers who plan on growing for themselves.[7]

Even still there are issues that medical marijuana raises that has yet to be discussed; one being how employers treat employees who have medical marijuana cards.  Christine Callaghan, a University of Rhode Island graduate student, claims that she was denied a paid internship at the Westerly based Fabrics Corp. due to her being a medical marijuana patient.[8]  The textile company responded with a motion to dismiss; in response, Superior Court Judge Licht denied the company’s motion. It appears now that the case is set for trial.  Representing the textile corporation is attorney Tim Cavazza.  In the corporation’s defense Cavazza states that the company declined to hire Callaghan based on her use of the medical marijuana, not on her status as a medical marijuana cardholder.[9]  The company is carefully trying to make a distinction between the two.  Also, he states that an employer is not required under the state’s medical marijuana act to accommodate or condone medical marijuana use.[10]  Representing Callaghan is a Rhode Island based chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  They’re arguing otherwise.  They believe that Fabrics Corporations’ refusal of to hire Christine Callaghan due to her medical marijuana usage is discriminatory because the law protects cardholders, and therefore users.[11]  Other medical marijuana employment discrimination cases have been filed in New Mexico, Maine, Colorado, and New Jersey.  However, in Rhode Island, this case can set a precedent for future ones.  Carly Iafrate filed the complaint for Callaghan and she believes it’s the first of its kind.[12]  This is because unlike other state laws that have legalized medical marijuana use Rhode Island’s explicitly says that an employer cannot refuse to hire someone due to their status as a cardholder.  This must be why attorney Cavazza made the distinction.  Callaghan got into contacts with the corporation through her professor.  She was looking for a position that would garner her credits and monetary compensation.  After ironing out specific details, Callaghan was called in for what appeared to be a routine meeting with the company’s HR department.  All signs indicated that she would get the position.  During this meeting Callaghan disclosed that she does in fact hold a medical marijuana card.  She indicated that she would not use marijuana before and during her work.[13]  A few days later she was told that she was told that the company was not going to hire her “due to her status as a medical marijuana cardholder”.[14]   The lawsuit is now in its discovery process.  Callaghan is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Coalition of Legislators and Organizations Renew Push for Bill to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Marijuana Policy Project, February 18, 2016. https://www.mpp.org/states/rhode-island/

 

[2] Coalition of Legislators and Organizations Renew Push for Bill to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

[3] Id.

[4] Jennifer Bogdan, Legalize Pot in Rhode Island? Governor Raimodo Gives the Effort a Boost, The Providence Journal, March 15, 2016.

[5] Legalize Pot in Rhode Island? Governor Raimodo Gives the @ffort a Boost.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Amy Anthony, Medical Marijuana User’s Case Against R.I. Firm Moves Forward, August 11, 2015. http://wpri.com/2015/08/11/medical-marijuana-users-case-against-ri-firm-moves-forward/

[9] Medical Marijuana User’s Case Against R.I. Firm Moves Forward.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

legalized medical marijuana use Rhode Island’s explicitly says that an employer cannot refuse to hire someone due to their status as a cardholder.  This must be why attorney Cavazza made the distinction.  Callaghan got into contacts with the corporation through her professor.  She was looking for a position that would garner her credits and monetary compensation.  After ironing out specific details, Callaghan was called in for what appeared to be a routine meeting with the company’s HR department.  All signs indicated that she would get the position.  During this meeting Callaghan disclosed that she does in fact hold a medical marijuana card.  She indicated that she would not use marijuana before and during her work.[13]  A few days later she was told that she was told that the company was not going to hire her “due to her status as a medical marijuana cardholder”.[14]   The lawsuit is not in its discovery process.  Callaghan is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Coalition of Legislators and Organizations Renew Push for Bill to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Marijuana Policy Project, February 18, 2016. https://www.mpp.org/states/rhode-island/

 

[2] Coalition of Legislators and Organizations Renew Push for Bill to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

[3] Id.

[4] Jennifer Bogdan, Legalize Pot in Rhode Island? Governor Raimodo Gives the Effort a Boost, The Providence Journal, March 15, 2016.

[5] Legalize Pot in Rhode Island? Governor Raimodo Gives the effort a Boost.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Amy Anthony, Medical Marijuana User’s Case Against R.I. Firm Moves Forward, August 11, 2015. http://wpri.com/2015/08/11/medical-marijuana-users-case-against-ri-firm-moves-forward/

[9] Medical marijuana User’s Case Against R.I. Firm Moves Forward.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s