The Town Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that blends tobacco/alcohol language to ban consumption of marijuana in all public places in town.
The Warren Town Council voted unanimously last week during their monthly meeting to send a draft ordinance forward to a second vote in August, which would prohibit the smoking of marijuana in all public spaces throughout the town and prohibit the possession of cannabis for anyone under the age of 21 in all public spaces.
The council had previously discussed the issue during their meeting in June, when they voted to send a referendum to voters in November regarding whether or not the town would participate in the recreational marijuana industry. The move to ban consumption of marijuana in public places, multiple council members said at the time, was due to the fact that there currently exists no such ordinance — meaning as of this article, people in Warren can technically smoke weed in places like public parks and while walking down public streets.
Water Street resident James Carter spoke in favor of the ordinance during the meeting.
“Since they’ve legalized marijuana, at the beach there are people down there smoking marijuana with children running around. It’s a problem, it’s a big problem,” he said. “There’s no enforcement and there’s no ordinance to enforce. So the state makes it legal, but if your kid’s down at the beach playing on the swing, is it okay for somebody to be smoking marijuana in front of them?”
“As of today, right now, it is legal for them to do that,” answered Council President John Hanley. “This ordinance will prohibit them from doing that.”
The penalties associated with the proposed 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.
Unique to the proposed cannabis ordinance Warren is deliberating is the inclusion of “public ways”, meaning public streets, as a prohibited place. That is not the case for smoking tobacco, which is only banned in places like public parks and athletic fields.
Joyce Katzberg referenced that inequity in enforcement in an emailed statement to the council, which was read into the record.
“The town plans to ban cannabis smoking on the basis of it being hazardous to non-smokers. Please expand that ordinance to include cigarettes, cigars and pipes as well,” she wrote. “If it is specific only to cannabis smoking then please consider me opposed, as there are many people for whom cannabis is medicinal, whereas that cannot be said about anyone using tobacco. Please consider there are many people under 21 who are military veterans for whom cannabis is providing relief from combat wounds, etc.”
The ordinance will be further discussed at the August meeting of the Town Council, where Town Solicitor Tony DeSisto said there will be a more specific definition provided for what exactly constitutes a “public way.”
A call to the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns revealed that the Town of Warren may be the first community in the state to move forward with such an ordinance — though they will almost certainly not be the last.
The state law, signed in May, made it legal by default to smoke marijuana in the same places that tobacco was allowed throughout Rhode Island (like on public sidewalks), but it provided communities the option to pen their own ordinances regarding public consumption, as Warren is doing now.