BURRILLVILLE – Town councilors last week unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting use or consumption of cannabis in public spaces, along with fines on par with those already on the books in Burrillville regarding public alcohol consumption.
The vote followed a strong recommendation by Burrillville Police Col. Stephen Lynch that the board pass a version of the law specifically prohibiting edibles as well as other forms of marijuana use.
“The use of edibles at our skate park, on our school grounds, at our ball fields, at our beaches, our pavilion grounds, our gazebo grounds, I believe, creates clear issues, mostly importantly, with members of our community that would be subjected to this allowable practice,” Lynch said. “The idea of allowing these dangers – these type of behaviors – which can take place in these areas with a green light to do so… puts our community at unnecessary risk.”
The testimony came in reaction to two potential versions of the bill up for consideration at the council meeting Wednesday, Nov. 9, including one that would not have addressed edible forms of the drug. The colonel pointed to the possibility of children mistaking an edible for a candy product.
“The risk is significant,” Lynch said. “The misidentification, I think, of candy and edibles is real.”
Councilor Stephen Rawson, who serves on the ordinance subcommittee that crafted the language of the new law said that the decision to provide two potential versions of the ordinance was prompted by concerns from town Solicitor William Dimitri, who noted that laws banning edibles are difficult to enforce.
“We did learn a lot about what the state’s laws were,” Rawson said of the process, noting the Rhode Island’s text on the subject is 125 pages long. “We’re kind of handcuffed with the state law with what we can do.”
Town Manager Michael Wood noted that the hope in town was to address the issue proactively following passage of the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, which legalized adult use of the drug. The ordinance has no bearing on the ballot question regarding licensing of potential cannabis retail shops in Burrillville, which was approved by 58.9 percent of town voters.
Lynch noted that police aren’t out to search for edibles, but rather to have clear language to follow if issues arise regarding use in public space.
“I am concerned with putting our families and children in environments with someone who can sit for an unlimited period of time in our parks, in our school grounds, at our ball fields and consume limitless amounts of edibles,” Lynch said.
Councilor Raymond Trinque noted that he’s often seen people bring edibles to public gatherings without warning others they contain marijuana.
“They think it’s funny,” Trinque said. “They all look perfectly harmless, sweet treats.”
Councilors ultimately passed a version of the law that prohibits edibles, also banning medical marijuana at places such as parks and schools. The penalty for the first offense is a fine of up to $100, with fines of up to $500 for the second and subsequent offenses.
Councilor Jeremy Bailey noted that a previous version of Burrillville’s ordinance had proposed stricter penalties, and that the matching the fines with those in place for alcohol consumption was more appropriate.
“That was a big thing,” Bailey said. “I wanted to make sure that they mirror each other.”
Councilor Justin Batalon agreed.
“I’m glad it’s more in line with policies we already have,” he said.
Councilor Dennis Anderson pointed out that shops in nearby Uxbridge, Mass. have been legally selling the drug there for some time.
“There’s been action from across the border for awhile,” Anderson said. “I’m not a fan of where we are to start with, that we even have to deal with this.”
Lynch noted it’s an issue police most often encounter during motor vehicle stops.
“The law has changed substantially as for enforcement,” Lynch said.
“I’m confident that the police will deal with this competently,” said Trinque.
Council President Donald Fox emphasized that the new Burrillville law is strictly focused on use in public spaces.
“This council is not taking a position on what you do with your private life,” Fox said. “It’s no judgement on people on where they want to do them in their home or private property.”
Lynch is expected to report back before the council next June or July with feedback on the change.