Relying on experience, Sen. Archambault likely to oppose legalizing marijuana

Relying on experience, Sen. Archambault likely to oppose legalizing marijuana

'I've smoked pot and I've been high,' he admits

SMITHFIELD - Confiding that his own youthful experience smoking marijuana "did me no good," Smithfield's state senator last week virtually assured a citizens' coalition here that he will oppose a pending bill to legalize possession of the drug and tax its sales as a revenue source.

"I've smoked pot and I've been high," Archambault told the town's Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, declaring that he knows from personal experience that marijuana use produces lethargy that can affect ambition and performance.

A one-time police officer who is now a lawyer and municipal prosecutor, Archambault said he does not believe the state can regulate marijuana sales in a way that will keep it from minors whom it is most likely to harm.

Both of Smithfield's state representatives, Thomas Winfield and Gregory Costantino, have said they will oppose the House version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Edith Ajello of Providence. The Senate version was introduced by Joshua Miller, of Cranston.

The legislation would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 or older, and would allow the growing of one mature plant and one seedling "in an enclosed, locked space."

Sales would be made at up to 10 licensed retail outlets. State revenue would come from both wholesale excise taxes and a retail sales tax, which Miller and Ajello said in a statement last month would generate "tens of millions of dollars in much needed state revenue," some of which would go to programs for the prevention of substance abuse.

Archambault made his statements at a Feb. 19 meeting of the local coalition, headed by Frank Luca, which pressed the Democratic senator to guarantee opposition to the bill.

Archambault said he wants to hear all the testimony at public hearings before the Judiciary Committee - of which he is a member - before making an outright commitment, but told the group he feels marijuana has "serious detrimental effects" on young minds.

As for the bill, he said, "I don't think Smithfield is ready for it and I don't think the state is ready for it."

He said he expressed the same views at hearings last year when similar bills, which never made it out of committee, were pending in both houses.

Coalition members expressed strong opposition to the legislation last week, and they heard similar views from Nancy DeNuccio, chairwoman of the Ocean State Prevention Alliance, a group that opposes legalization.

DeNuccio said that under existing medical marijuana regulations, 255 tons of the drug are grown here annually in a state that has 4,800 authorized users.

That works out to 106 pounds per patient per year.

DeNuccio said that's far more than medicinal users can possibly consume.

"The rest is going out the back door, to high schoolers. Kids are getting it from card-holders," she said, adding that in Colorado, which with Washington is one of two states that have legalized marijuana, "the black market is rampant."

DeNuccio told the coalition it should strongly object to any bill that touts "getting tax revenue on the backs of our children."

In announcing provisions of the legislation last month, Senator Miller termed marijuana prohibition "a long term failure that forces the drug into an underground market and "ensures authorities have no control of the product. Regulating marijuana would allow the product to be sold safely and responsibly by legitimate businesses in appropriate locations."

Ajello said "Most Rhode Island voters agree it is time to end marijuana prohibition and start treating the product like alcohol."

DeNuccio, however, told the coalition that in a poll, 73 percent of Rhode Islanders opposed legalization. And, she said, the regulation of alcohol has not prevented minors from obtaining it.

Coalition Chairman Luca said of marijuana sales, "I can't see any way the state can regulate it so won't get into the hands of children. You cannot tell me how the people in the legislature can't see that."

DeNuccio said research shows that marijuana has a detrimental effect on youthful IQs, and Maxine Cavanagh, the Town Council's liaison to the coalition, noted, "That's not just for the moment - it's forever."

While the pending bills limit the amount of marijuana that could be bought, Archambault said it's his feeling the legislation would be "a foot in the door" for later expansion and warned the coalition, "Don't lose sight of that."

School Committee liaison Virginia Harnois said she's concerned about the broad implications of legalizing marijuana because "we may end up spending more statewide on what this will lead to in social problems."

She added, "The best thing we can do is go down to the Statehouse the day they have the hearing and testify."

Archambault said hearings aren't expected for about a month.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 14, state and several local police departments, including Smithfield's, used search warrants to enter four businesses in three communities, including the Twin River Mini Mart at 151 Douglas Pike, Smithfield, where in all four locations they seized a total of 1,200 packets of synthetic marijuana and $21,000 in cash.

The actions, which also took place in West Warwick and Foster, resulted in the arrest of seven people from various communities on narcotics violations.

The Smithfield action involved the arrest of Hassen Badshah Khan, 55, of Fall River, Mass., 33, charged with delivery of a Schedule 1 narcotic to an undercover police officer and possession of a Schedule 1 narcotic with intent to deliver.

In an action related to seizures at Star Petrol, 173 Danielson Pike, Foster, Harry Gyuleseryan, 24, of East Providence, was charged with delivery of a Schedule 1 narcotic to an undercover police officer.

After the arrests, state Atty. Gen. Peter F. Kilmartin termed synthetics "the new frontier in the war on drugs."