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Legislators reiterate call for social and racially just marijuana legislation

“If we choose to legalize cannabis in RI without full restorative justice for the thousands of black and brown RIers who were targeted and imprisoned because of a racist war on drugs, we have failed,” said Representative Leonela Felix.
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Published on September 8, 2021
By Reclaim RI

During the last legislative session the Rhode Island Senate voted to approve a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi announced that legislators may reconvene in a special session this fall to outline the structure of the state’s legal marijuana industry. In advance of this possible special session, progressive political organization Reclaim Rhode Island say that legislators can and should act now to pass the most progressive cannabis legalization law in the nation.

The special session would provide Rhode Island with the opportunity to become a model for progressive and inclusive cannabis legalization laws. Alongside a coalition of organizations, Reclaim RI is calling on the legislature to pass marijuana legislation that would center racial and economic justice. Reclaim RI, Yes We Cannabis RI Coalition, Black Lives Matter RI PAC, Formerly Incarcerated Union of RI, and UFCW Local 328 released a joint statement outlining priorities for cannabis legislation. As of September 8, 15 Rhode Island legislators have signed on in support of this statement of priorities (full list below). Rhode Island legislators can make just marijuana legalization happen this fall: bills in both the House and the Senate include provisions that would go a long way to satisfying the coalition’s demands. 

Priorities include: 

  • Automatic expungement of prior marijuana-related offenses 
  • Waiving of pending and outstanding penalties, fines, and court fees for marijuana-related charges
  • 50% allocation of new licenses for social equity applicants
  • 25% allocation of new licenses for worker-owned cooperatives
  • Require cannabis licensors to enter into a labor peace agreement so that workers can organize unions.

See also: Better than New York? Cannabis legalization in RI needs to center social and economic justice, say advocates

“If we choose to legalize cannabis in RI without full restorative justice for the thousands of black and brown RIers who were targeted and imprisoned because of a racist war on drugs, we have failed,” said Representative Leonela Felix (Democrat, District 61, Pawtucket). “We must ensure that those jailed for marijuana offenses receive grant driven assistance that will provide the necessary capital and the economic outcomes to restore their lives. Providing economic relief and investment is one way we can truly restore and help to mend lives broken by this disastrous federal law enforcement program.”

“Across the country, big corporations are taking over the cannabis industry,” said Representative Karen Alzate (Democrat, District 60, Pawtucket). “Meanwhile, there is no effort to repair the harm that the War on Drugs and the prison industrial complex have caused to Black and Brown communities. Here in Rhode Island, we have an opportunity to pass legalization that would ensure that working class people get their fair share—by being the first state ever to reserve licenses for worker-owned cooperatives. We can’t reverse the harm of the War on Drugs, but we can start to repair it by passing automatic expungement and waiving all related fines, fees, and court debt. This bold legalization plan offers us the chance to turn a new leaf for the Ocean State, and it’s time we take it.”

“It is not enough to legalize marijuana and think we have undone years of harm in low-income communities through the war on drugs,” said Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence). “We must be intentional about how we bring legal and accessible marijuana to our state by investing in communities, providing opportunities for those most impacted by the war on drugs.”

Also speaking were Senator Kendra Anderson (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston), Representative David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence) and Tyler Brown, a member of Reclaim RI:

The following representatives and senators have signed on to Reclaim RI’s statement of Marijuana Justice Principles: Senators Meghan Kallman, Samuel Bell, Brianna Henries, Tiara Mack, Kendra Anderson, Jeanine Calkin, and Cynthia Mendes; Representatives Brandon Potter, David Morales, Jose Batista, Rebecca Kislak, Leonela Felix, John Lombardi, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, and Karen Alzate.

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