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RIHA Column: A “Budding” Industry…

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

By Dale Venturini, President & CEO, RI Hospitality Association

With the legalization of recreational marijuana for adult use in Rhode Island looming, the RI Hospitality Association is working to gather as much information as possible to share with our members regarding the intricacies of the 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 their employee is using marijuana in the workplace – something that could present itself to be 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 themselves, or others, by willful intent or intoxication. If marijuana is not considered an “unlawful substance” under this provision, we would push for it to be added to the list.

We are also concerned with the additional language that would allow for recreational use of marijuana outside of the workplace. We are afraid 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 they 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 be 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 states, are protected by the law should the Governor’s proposal become reality.

While nearby states, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine have already legalized recreational marijuana, legalization should not be considered a competition, but rather 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.

Dale J. Venturini is the President & CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Association. A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.

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