Marijuana Debate Evolves as New Advocacy Group Forms
Saturday, May 10, 2014
The Cannabis Producers Association of New England formed in early 2014 to represent the interests of the average citizen trying to participate in the medical cannabis industry. The formation of the group was dictated by recent proposed changes to the medical cannabis laws in Rhode Island.
Legislation was proposed in the House that would limit the number of mature plants a municipal grower can cultivate for each patient to 3, a massive drop-off from the current limit of 12. The legislation is intended to prevent confrontation between municipal growers and people looking to steal marijuana.
The municipal debate adds another layer to the hot button legalization debate in Rhode Island.
Representatives from the Cannabis Producers Association declined to comment at this time, stating they were finalizing a public relations team that will be active shortly.
Legalization Advocates on Municipal Reform
John Simpson is an advocate of legalization and owns the Doggett & Simpson cannabis nutrient company, a 3-step nutrient system that Simpson says is “specifically designed to make it as easy as possible to grow cannabis.”
Simpson has been advocating for legalization as a human rights issue for years, but also believes cannabis should be 18+ and there should be legal penalties for using it irresponsibly (such as driving).
Simpson foresees that New England states will start to legalize within approximately 3 years, but feels the municipal debate is separate from the legalization argument.
“My own feeling about legalization is not really influenced by how many plants a caregiver can grow,” he said. “I do think that overall it’s a good thing that tweaks continue to be made as they continue to care for the people who use it municipally.”
Simpson said he could not comment on the medical pros or cons since he is not a caregiver, but he feels that legalization is an ethical issue.
Worcester native Wayne Reiss has been involved with several advocacy groups in the legalization debate. He believes that as autonomous beings, humans have the right to control their own bodies.
“I feel like it’s a civil liberties issue,” Reiss said. “It’s a civil rights issue.”
“Any limitation on how much they can get is ridiculous,” Reiss continued. “There should be no limit. There are no cutbacks on pharmaceutical drugs. The only thing we do this for is marijuana.”
Reiss put an exclamation point on his stance, proclaiming, “patients won’t be able to get what they want until we legalize!”
The Legalization Debate
The legalization debate is a hot button issue across New England.
In March, GoLocal used the revenue statistics generated in Colorado to project that legalization and taxation of marijuana would generate well under 1% of the annual budget in each of the 6 New England States.
However, groups such as Open Doors have in their own analysis found those numbers to be much higher.
Opponents also point to potential health risks for young people.
A pilot study from Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital in April found that individuals who used marijuana heavily throughout their teens and then continued to use into adulthood showed a significant drop in their IQ.
This contrasts with a study conducted at Rhode Island Hospital that concluded that legalizing medical marijuana does not increase use among adolescents.
Reiss believes the biggest hurdle for advocacy groups to overcome is the pushback from legislators. The problem, he says, is two-fold. The first is the stigma that comes with drug advocacy.
“It’s a stigma, which prohibitionists use by associating advocates with criminals,” he said. “It’s only recently that we considered that some people who support legalization don’t smoke pot.”
The second issue, according to Reiss, is the financial interests of prohibitionists.
“We have a lot of momentum to move against,” he said, pointing to the business prohibition creates for prisons, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.
“People think that legalizing weed is going to help the economy, but we’re going to lose money,” Reiss added. “If we sold weed like Tomatoes, it should sell for about $6 a pound. In New York City right now, it goes or six or seven thousand dollars a pound. Once everyone legalizes it the market is going to crash.”
Reiss says the goal of advocacy groups should be to continue to use populous support and pressure legislators into action. He also admits the legalization cause has only a fraction of the funding its opponents receive.
“Largely, this has been funded by private citizens, and drug advocacy groups raise about $10 million a year,” he said. “The federal advertising budget for prohibition is $100 million by itself.
Bill vs. Ballot
Lawmakers in Rhode Island could make the state the first to legalize through legislation rather than through the voting booth.
5 House representatives introduced a bill (2014-H 7506) in February that would legalize marijuana and regulate and tax it like alcohol. The Judiciary Committee established a study committee for that bill in April.
If the issue does make it onto the ballot, advocacy groups are optimistic legalization will come to fruition. A Marijuana Policy Project poll from January showed 52% of Rhode Islanders favored legalization, and taxation.
Related Slideshow: The Highest Marijuana Prices in New England by State
The "crowdsourced" website, The Price of Weed, uses consumer input to show how much an ounce of marijuana costs -- by location.
Below are the rankings of New England states, from lowest price reported for "medium grade" marijuana, to highest, along with the number ("n") submitting data.
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