Former RI Director of Health Supports Marijuana Legalization, But Opposes Proposed Bill: A Blackstone Valley Community Health Care News Article

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Former RI Director of Health Supports Marijuana Legalization, But Opposes Proposed Bill

Former Rhode Island Director of Health Michael Fine in an interview with GoLocal said that he supports the concept of legalizing marijuana, but strongly opposes the current legislation, H-5555, because of what he says are deep flaws in the bill.

“I’m in support of the notion of legalaliztion of recreational marijuana, as long as it's for people over 21, and that its taxation is used to promote after-school and adult education programs, and treatment and prevention,” said Fine. 

The widely-respected Fine, who has been one of the leading innovators in public health in the United States, said after a closer inspection of the bill, that he found it to be "anti-Democratic" and lends itself to corporate influencing.

“There's a poison pill -- which [are] the state preemption clauses," said Fine. "The bill says that cities and towns can't prohibit the retail sale of marijuana, and if they want to restrict the sales in some way, every time they do, they have to have a referendum.”

Switching Sides

Fine was originally on a list circulated by Jared Moffat of RegulateRI of high-profile Rhode Islanders scheduled to testify in favor of the legislation or submit testimony at the House hearing on Tuesday. However, GoLocal was notified afterwards that Fine neither testified, nor submitted testimony.

“When I talked with Jared, I [originally] said I'd be happy to be in favor (of the legislation). But, spending time in state government -- it's always dangerous to read bills,” said Fine. 

“I read it fully yesterday morning -- Jared was good about trying to say we can try to change it," said Fine the current language to bind cities and towns. "But his explanation, as I understood it, was because giving towns the choice would make the process more democratic, that advocates were worried town councils would do the opposite of what the constituents wanted. Not for nothing, but we do live in a representative democracy -- to go around that is a little troublesome."

Tuesday night at the House Judiciary Committee, hundreds attended and a diverse group of community leaders and special interests testified for the legalization legislation, including Jim Vincent of the Providence Chapter of the NAACP as well as disabled Vietnam veteran and former police officer Roland Gauvin.

There is mounting pressure to follow Massachusetts and legalize in order to generate critical tax revenue.

“It turns out the public health evidence from alcohol is pretty clear. The way you reduce use and over-use is to restrict retail sales, whether altogether or opening hours of outlets, so [this] bill closes the best opportunity to control use -- and remember we have major issues of use, with substance abuse in Rhode Island,” said Fine.

Fine pointed to Rhode Island being currently ranked 5th in the nation for marijuana use.

"We used to be number one, but we dropped when states legalized. If we legalize, I have no doubt we'd be one again," said Fine. "We have major issues with every other substance we know about -- our real challenge is reducing use and the bill doesn't do that.”

Money’s Role

Fine saide he worried that the legalization of marijuana will put powerful corporate interests in positions of power and influence, citing hospitals, tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals all as being influential interests.

“I like democracy -- so this kind of preemption [in the bill] shows up when a corporate or financial interest wants some evil product that can't be restricted from a public health perspective. It comes up for tobacco, it's always someone pushing something who want to circumvent the process,” said Fine 

“People spent a lot of money opening compassion centers, when they're supposed to be a non profit? Hospitals are not for profit and they spend millions on their executives -- we should take them all to task," said Fine. "Take hospitals -- who aren't nonprofit, they're just not tax paying. They take out the profit and pay their execs.”