Warren becomes first in RI to ban public consumption of marijuana

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 8/16/22

Warren has become the first municipality in Rhode Island to codify a local ordinance outlawing the public consumption of recreational marijuana.

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Warren becomes first in RI to ban public consumption of marijuana

Posted

Warren has become the first municipality in Rhode Island to codify a local ordinance outlawing the public consumption of recreational marijuana — a move made to shut the door on any confusion surrounding where such activity would be allowed following the state legalizing recreational marijuana in May.

The Town Council voted unanimously during their Aug. 9 meeting to pass the second reading of an ordinance that would make it a criminal violation to smoke or vape marijuana in any public place, which is defined by the language of the ordinance as “any public street or right-of-way of the Town of Warren, and associated sidewalks, walkways, alleys and alleyways, parking lots, buildings, and grounds associated with those buildings that are open to the public.”

The ordinance also specifically includes “all parks, athletic facilities, recreational facilities, and conservation areas owned by the Town of Warren.”

Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto informed the council that the language used in the unprecedented ordinance will likely be implemented in other communities.

“This ordinance that you see here will be popping up in other communities,” he said. “Barrington has already put it out there, they’re a little bit behind you, and other communities will be following.”

As part of the ordinance, the Town also officially codified that possession of marijuana in any public place by anyone under the age of 21 was also prohibited.

The penalties associated with the approved ordinance would mirror the penalties for infractions involving smoking tobacco and drinking in public — a fine not exceeding $500 or up to 30 days of jail time, with each subsequent infraction being treated as a new offense.

Council rejects one element of ban
The original language of the ordinance presented to the council included one additional piece that became the subject of constructive discussion among the council members.

Its definition of a “public place” originally included “those portions of apartment houses, apartment buildings and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residences.” This would have meant that smoking marijuana would be illegal in an area such as the porch of a multi-family home, or in any common area of an apartment or condominium complex.

Such a ban is not placed on smoking tobacco products or drinking alcohol.

“My question for the council would be do we want to step above what we do with alcohol and regulate it on, technically, public areas of private property?” pondered Council President John Hanley. “Say if you’re in an apartment complex and have a pool. If you want to go out there and have a nice cold beer, you can do it. But if you want to go out there and spark up a joint, you can’t do it. Do we want to treat them differently, or the same?”

Multiple council members made their hesitation with this provision of the ordinance clear.

“I am definitely not in favor of regulating or making illegal consumption of marijuana on private property in any way,” said Councilwoman Keri Cronin. “I don’t want to tell people that they can’t sit on their porch or in their backyard or by your pool or whatever and recreate in a way that is responsible and an adult fashion. I don’t want any part of that.”

“I think we should not be trying to legislate for private property,” agreed Brandt Heckert. “I’d be more in favor of regulating tobacco quite frankly, it’s a much more dangerous substance than cannabis. It kills a half million people a year.”

DeSisto clarified that apartment complex landlords and condo associations would be well within their rights to establish such a ban on smoking cannabis in public spaces without the need to include it in the town ordinance.

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