2017-10-26 / Editorial

Marijuana use must be kept limited

EDWARD A. MELLO

In recent weeks, you may have heard discussion regarding the regulation of marijuana and the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance here in Jamestown. I felt it was worthy of clarifying some points of the discussion.

First, let me clarify the change to the zoning ordinance as proposed does not affect medical marijuana patients and those who care and provide for them. In fact, I advocated that this area of marijuana growing not be impacted as I support the use of medical marijuana when regulated properly. I personally have seen the benefit it offers to patients suffering from various illnesses.

The proposed town regulation focuses on the commercial aspects of marijuana. That is to say the commercial growing, processing and selling of marijuana as it stands today may arguably be allowed in any area of town without limit. This should be a concern to all residents as this is not only a commercial operation, it also has a history of associated crime and violence throughout the state.

I have no doubt marijuana will become legal for recreational use in Rhode Island within the next several years. I have strong concerns about this short-sighted approval, which seems to always revolve around the tax revenue that can be generated.

While we focus on this so-called potential benefit, we fail to focus on the lack of education we are providing to our children who are exposed to marijuana at very young ages.

We also fail to focus on the impact it will have on the motoring public as police and the court systems are ill-equipped to determine the level of impairment and to prosecute those who drive while under the influence of marijuana. Police officers frequently encounter young adults and juveniles with marijuana while in a vehicle. This is a bad combination.

Many compare the legalization of marijuana to that of the regulation of alcohol. As proposed by the marijuana legalization advocates, marijuana would be available at any retail location a town may allow. This is not the case for alcohol. The medical marijuana program in Rhode Island as it was first implemented was poorly designed and remains prone to abuse. I am concerned the next steps in marijuana will follow a similar path.

I have been in law enforcement for nearly 30 years and have seen firsthand the dangers of alcohol as it relates to our roads and children. I literally have lost count of the number of people I have seen killed due to alcohol-related crashes.

We as a society and the criminal justice profession have taken decades to try to help mitigate these dangers and still have such a long way to go. If marijuana takes the same path, it is likely we will compound these dangers.

We have a responsibility here to protect our neighbors and our children. I urge that we consider all factors that may impact us because once we open the doors, it will be impossible to undo what we have done.

Edward A. Mello is chief of the Jamestown Police Department.

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