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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A majority of the North Kingstown Town Council is favoring letting voters decide whether recreational marijuana can be sold legally in town. But, unlike their counterparts in Narragansett and South Kingstown, a final decision of a potential referendum has yet to officially be made.

Republican Town Council Member Mary Brimer said that she definitely wants voters to make the call while two Democrat colleagues like the idea of sending the question to the Nov. 8 townwide ballot, but they won’t commit to doing it.

“I will vote to send this to NK Voters to decide in November,” said Brimer, one of two Republications on the Democrat-controlled five-member council. A new state law gives town voters a right to reject local sales that will be permitted without their decision.

Two of her Democrat colleagues on the panel were less definite, using words like “lean towards” or “inclined to” having voters decide, but stopped short of a commitment as Brimer made.

Democrat Katie Anderson, said, “I generally lean towards making this a ballot item and letting voters decide. “Council President Greg Mancini said that he’s “inclined to” have voters make the decision.

 Both he and Anderson said they want more information about the effects of the choice before committing.

Democrat Kim Page and Republican Kerry McKay did not respond to emails from The Independent to gauge their sentiments about directly giving voters the choice.

A recent informal social media survey of some town residents indicated a strong desire for voters to make the decision rather than the Town Council.

Without a ballot vote, shops will be permitted under current state law to sell within the town providing they meet all state and local requirements. 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 allows legal 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 of local sales by putting the question before voters.

Town councils in Narragansett and South Kingstown voted unanimously last week to add the question to the November 8 ballot for town-wide elections.

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.

In addition, the legislation makes numerous investments in the creation of “an equitable, accessible cannabis retail market” through the set-aside of certain application-fee revenues and the reservation of a portion of new licenses for “social equity applicants and worker-owned cooperatives,” according to McKee.

For local law enforcement agencies, the sale of marijuana means the potential of increased driving under the influence of a substance that could impair a person’s ability to operate any motor vehicle.

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association has expressed concern that the drug remains dangerous and that there is no reliable test for impaired drivers using marijuana.

Without one, the prosecution is more difficult under the state’s DUI laws, police officials have said, adding that offenders could create unsafe driving conditions on local streets and highways.

Many residents recently responded to a social media question about whether voters or the Town Council should decide whether to allow cannabis shops in North Kingstown. The majority favored voters making the decision and only one said that the town council should decide.

Tracy Fusco Cedrone, said, “If it’s legal in the state, why should it be a question?”

Jennifer Ann wrote, ”Let the town people vote. That’s why we have the voting process. Unfortunately, I am worried that too many people will be closed-minded and picture people walking the streets stoned.”

Matthew B. McCoy, a Democrat-endorsed town council candidate, wrote, “I believe that the best approach would be to have the voters decide. Personally, I am not in favor of having marijuana dispensaries in North Kingstown. I think that the cons outweigh the pros for having this type of business in town.”

One person, Jessie Keenan, pointed to the town earning extra revenue and a voter decision might help.

“Let the voters decide. I feel that our town deserves the extra tax revenue. Plus so many empty storefronts that need some love, the old KFC would be great, drive through pick up! Convenience is key.”

Philip Gilchrist wrote, “They should just allow it, or miss a great business opportunity.”

Kelly Hatfield, said, “Leave it to the voters. We currently travel to Massachusetts each week and would much rather our taxes stay local.”

The Town Council is scheduled to receive a presentation from Town Manager Ralph Mollis later this month. He plans to review the requirements of state law as it pertains to holding a ballot and town rules needed to allow businesses to sell marijuana under state and local regulations.

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.

“Several communities aren’t sending it to referendum, some are,” South Kingstown Town Solicitor Michael Ursillo said last week when the town he represents decided to give voters the last word.

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, he added.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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