DelFino seeks to regulate marijuana

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Two ordinances recently introduced by District 1 Councilman Richard DelFino III seek to limit the expansion of marijuana and other substances in Johnston, which if approved will set strict regulations for growers and other businesses.

“My fear is that things are spiraling out of control.  We’re in a position where things like a caregiver, or with patient cultivation, we’re going to require those people to now get a special use permit with the zoning board and to follow a strict set of guidelines in order to do that,” said DelFino. 

DelFino said the proposed ordinances are “good health and safety ordinances” that will hopefully be on next month’s Town Council agenda for public comment and a vote. The first updates the town’s marijuana ordinances, and states that the public health, safety, and general welfare is threatened by those licensed to possess and grow marijuana and install equipment without proper permits and inspections. It also addresses the safe storage of cannabis at facilities.

“We’re putting in some restrictions on medical marijuana. Now, I get it’s medicinal and people need it and I appreciate that,” said DelFino. “We’re going to make it a requirement that they go and get those permits, and if the town finds they haven’t done that their going to suspend their ability to operate in the town.”

The Attorney General’s office gave a presentation to the Council in December, and since then the council has been actively working on ordinances, included language regulating marijuana emporiums and marijuana cultivation centers and restricting their ability to open in certain places in town that could potentially affect neighborhoods.

While there are currently no registered compassion centers in town, there is some marijuana cultivation by patients and caregivers. Under the proposed ordinance, medical marijuana facilities are only allowed at a cardholders primary address. The facilities must apply for a zoning certificate, along with building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing permits.

Grow operations must be secured by locks, cannot be located in a basement, must be properly ventilated, be imperceptible from the outside, and may not be used to extract oils or chemicals from marijuana. If the ordinance is passed, future compassion centers, medical marijuana facilities, and cultivation centers will be prohibited in all zoning districts except industrial zones and may only operate with a special use permit issued by the Johnston Zoning Board of review.

In addition, these operations cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a residential zone, 1,500 feet from a house of worship, school, park, playground, day care or youth center, or within 2,000 feet of other marijuana grow operations. Additional regulations set standards for hours of operation, lighting, parking and for violations of the standards.

“I think drug use period is unacceptable. I think the use of it around schools and the promotion of it around schools is unacceptable,” said DelFino. “We don’t want our kids near marijuana; we want them to learn the detrimental affects of the use of marijuana.”

DelFino said he recognizes that there is an “obvious push” in the state to legalize marijuana, and that he is “opposed to that.” 

“We want to keep marijuana out of everyone’s hands but specifically the youth and preventing it from being in our neighborhoods. This is a health and safety issue,” he said.

A recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, North Carolina survey company working on behalf of Regulate Rhode Island, an organization advocating for cannabis legalization, found 59 percent of Rhode Islanders now support legalizing recreational marijuana. The poll also found that 52 percent of Johnston residents now approve of recreational marijuana.

“I don’t feel like I’m going against the grain. Families and the importance of families in our community is key. I don’t know anybody that would want their child having easier access to marijuana. I think that there’s a perception out there that it’s just marijuana, and that’s not the case and I don’t feel that way,” said DelFino. “I don’t want it in my neighborhood and I’m sure my neighbors would feel the same way.”

The councilman added that Johnstonians should rely on “good family values and good moral values” and rely on organizations like the Johnston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition to educate and promote good choices, and that the use of marijuana is not one of those choices. DelFino added that the governor and Department of Health, State Police and law enforcement are doing their part in fighting legalization and that he appreciated their hard work.

“There’s a lot of ways to produce revenue. To put a tax on marijuana and regulating this illicit drug on the backs of families, I have a problem with that,” he said.  “I’m a realist, middle and high school kids have the ability to get it. Let’s not make it easier. Let’s not legalize it, let’s not make it acceptable.”

Another Delfino ordinance focuses on the town’s tobacco policy. This ordinance deals with businesses that are selling tobacco and tobacco products, and will now require those businesses to pay a $100 licensing fee, which will go to the Prevention Coalition.

“We’re going to put some restrictions on them and put some different penalties in place, and what we’re seeing is, notably things like flavored tobacco products that are attracting people under the age of 18 to buy tobacco,” said DelFino. “Tobacco companies are targeting this demographic. Studies show that marijuana is a gateway drug, I believe that. But also that people who try tobacco end up getting addicted and using tobacco products throughout life and we’re going to target that group.”

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