NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Laws saying where legalized marijuana can’t be smoked in public, such as playgrounds, athletic fields, town beaches and other town-owned property would mirror existing restrictions on smoking tobacco, officials in Narragansett have decided.
“Legalization is imminent, so it probably makes sense,” was how Town Solicitor James Callaghan recently put it to Town Council members.
The council has approved on a first reading an ordinance amendment to put those prohibitions in place, along with adding the vaping of cannabis products among the actions forbidden on town property.
A violation of the ordinance carries a $100 fine. The second reading is scheduled for the council’s August meeting.
Resident Catherine Celeberto said she would like the town to instead increase its financial penalty for using cannabis or smoking tobacco in public.
“You have to discourage people,” she said. “If you stop a couple of kids at the beach and they’re vaping, and the mother has to pay $200, I think you’re going to discourage them. That’s why I’d rather see the fine raised.”
Callaghan said he could look into that, and was unsure if there might be a limit to how high such fines can go.
Narragansett is taking this action now because of the anticipated legalization of recreational cannabis on the statewide level.
The state will be able to issue licenses to sell recreational marijuana in Narragansett and elsewhere — that is, unless local voters say no in November.
Gov. Dan McKee signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act on May 25. It legalizes and regulates recreational cannabis by requiring state-issued licenses for its cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and retail sale.
It legalizes possession of up to one ounce for personal use by those age 21 or older, among other provisions. But the law also lets communities opt out by putting the question before voters.
Town councils in Narragansett and North and South Kingstown have voted to add the question to the Nov. 8 ballot. If a city or town doesn’t send the act to the referendum, it will be allowed, subject to any related zoning amendments the town adopts.
The legislation calls for a 20-percent tax rate, split up into the seven-percent sales tax, a new 10-percent cannabis tax, and a three-percent tax by the municipality where the marijuana is sold.
Some municipalities see the associated three-percent excise tax in the law as a revenue generator and want to capture that money rather than see it go to a neighboring community.
The law also sets up a cannabis control commission, a three-member independent body to issue licenses and administer and enforce policies for medical and adult use cannabis.
The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association has expressed concern that the drug remains dangerous in some environments and that there is no reliable test for impaired drivers using marijuana.
Some local residents have complained that legal cannabis would increase the smell of pot smoke, and reduce quality of life.