A "Budding" Industry...

Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association

With the legalization of recreational marijuana for adult-use in Rhode Island looming, the RI Hospitality Association (RIHA) is working to gather pertinent information for our members to fully understand the intricacies of this potential new law. On multiple occasions, bills to legalize recreational marijuana in the state have been shot down by the Rhode Island Legislature, but for the first time, Governor Gina Raimondo has expressed support for legalization, including it in her budget for the 2019 fiscal year, beginning on July 1. Though the law to legalize recreational marijuana has yet to be passed, many business owners are preparing for the inevitable…but there are a few burning questions that need answers.

First and foremost, RIHA wants to ensure that the proposal includes strong protections for employers. We believe that this can be achieved by modernizing our drug-testing laws to reflect any potential implementation of recreational marijuana laws. We have also requested the development of a list of identifying objective factors that employers can use to determine whether or not an employee is under the influence or “impaired” while on the job. Under the current structure of the state’s drug testing laws, employers have no ability to determine whether an employee is using marijuana in the workplace – something that could present a huge liability.

We’re also working to clarify if marijuana is considered an “unlawful substance” under the current language for Worker’s Compensation law. This statute serves as a defense for employers should an employee injure or harm him/herself, or others, by willful intent or intoxication. If marijuana is not considered an unlawful substance under this provision, we will push for it to be added to the list. We are also concerned with language that would allow for recreational use of marijuana outside of the workplace. RIHA maintains that this language weakens the employment-at-will doctrine because it is unclear whether an employer may take an adverse employment action against an employee, based solely on a positive test for marijuana. We believe employers should have the right to decide if their business will be a drug-free work place, even after legalization.

RIHA would also like to see the proposal for marijuana legalization mirror several of the policies already in place under current liquor regulations. As it is with alcohol, we would hope that the misrepresentation of age could not be used as a defense for the sale of marijuana to minors. Although retail liquor license holders are liable for damages sustained by the use of liquor, this is not addressed in the Governor’s marijuana proposal. Similarly, we suggest adding a caveat requiring retail marijuana license holders to have “marijuana liability insurance.”

Furthermore, RIHA requests that all persons who sell marijuana are trained in the proper way to check IDs - similar to the mandated alcohol safety training currently required. Training will ensure that individuals who serve marijuana will fully understand the physiological effects of their product, be able to identify patrons who are impaired and will teach techniques for refusing service and preventing sales to minors, including spotting fraudulent identification.

At the end of the day, it’s our goal to ensure that our members, and all business-owners throughout the state, are protected by the law should the Governor’s proposal become reality. While nearby states like Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine have already legalized recreational marijuana, legalization should not be considered as a way to remain competitive, but rather as a well-thought-out and easily executable plan that ensures the best interests of all Rhode Island citizens regardless of their individual stance on the topic.