PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Tuesday announced that she is asking a judge to declare the legislature’s control over new marijuana and hemp regulations unconstitutional.
Raimondo said she is suing in state Superior Court because of “what we believe is an unconstitutional provision that the House snuck into last year’s budget allowing the legislature essentially a veto over the marijuana regulations.”
At an afternoon news conference, Raimondo said she did not make the decision to go to court lightly.
“But I felt it was important to do because Rhode Islanders deserve to have confidence in their government,” she said. “Separation of powers was put into our Constitution to protect taxpayers and protect Rhode Islanders from corruption.”
Spokesmen for the House and Senate say the lawsuit is an unnecessary use of taxpayers’ dollars and judicial resources. They say legislative leaders, including House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, have already indicated that legislation will be introduced in January to remove that provision in the law.
“That is interesting,” Raimondo said when asked about Mattiello’s statement. “That is an abrupt and rapid change in (Mattiello’s) position after he got wind that we were going to file this lawsuit. We talked to him extensively before he put this in the budget. He kind of sloughed off the concern.”
Raimondo said the issue is bigger than just the marijuana regulations. “I think it’s important to let people know Rhode Island is open for business, everybody has a chance to compete, and it’s not just for the politically connected,” she said.
Raimondo was asked about Mattiello’s deputy chief of staff, Grant Pilkington, who is a shareholder in American Standard Hemp, which is licensed to extract CBD oil from hemp.
“That is another red flag,” she said. “It’s just another thing that erodes people’s confidence in government, just another reason why we need to play this above board, totally transparently.”
Also, Raimondo was asked about Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II, who was indicted in September on charges of conspiring to extort more than $600,000 in bribes from four marijuana vendors.
“What happened in Fall River is not going to happen here because we are going to take it seriously,” she said. “The medical marijuana business is a new industry, it’s a growing industry. It’s an opportunity to create revenue and to create jobs, but it’s also an opportunity for corruption.”
H. Philip West Jr., former executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, attended the news conference to show support for separation of powers. In an interview, he noted that 78.3 percent of voters approved the separation of powers amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution in 2004.
“I think the battle continues until the legislature recognizes that it can’t fight on this ground,” West said. “I think the court will establish definitively that separation of powers is in force and that the legislature can’t do this, and that will stop them from doing this again.”
The budget adds six medical marijuana dispensaries, for a total of nine. The Department of Business Regulation is considering proposing a lottery system to allow “all serious, qualified businesses” to take part in Rhode Island’s medical marijuana market.