On May 23, the Rhode Island State Police raided nearly thirty locations simultaneously in a coordinated effort to arrest members of two motorcycle gangs. Fifty members or associates of two gangs, the Pagans and the Kryptmen, were arrested on drug and gun charges. The raids centered around Woonsocket, a town near the Massachusetts border.

According to reports, some of the targeted locations were fortified, resulting in the need to use explosive charges and battering rams to enter. The only reported injury was to a police K-9, which tangled with a pit bull. Police say they seized fifty-three guns as well as silencers and a rocket launcher. Along with weapons police found crack, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Police also uncovered evidence of financial crimes and as well as a substantial amount of stolen property, including ATVs, snow blowers, and gardening equipment.

The raids culminated an investigation involving many police agencies and 150 law enforcement officers. They employed surveillance and court-ordered wiretaps in a months-long investigation. The affidavit for the raids was 1,300 pages long. The state police claim the raid was the largest in their history, and that the gangs were involved in unreported shootings over territory. The investigations began with a focus on another gang, the Thugriders, who switched allegiance to the Pagans. One of their leaders now faces more than 230 charges.

Rhode Island and marijuana

Medical marijuana has been legal in Rhode Island since 2006. Surveys indicated that 60 percent of the resident of Rhode Island support legalization, which is currently under study in the legislature. Under Rhode Island law, a proposal that originates in the legislature may be put before voters. If a majority of Rhode Island voters indicate support for legalization, this may motivate the legislature to pursue legalization.

Governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, has supported putting the question to the state’s voters. She has also supported an increase in the number of the small state’s dispensaries from three to fifteen. The increase in sales is expected to add millions to the state’s tax revenue. Buyers from Connecticut and Massachusetts would be welcome in the state.

Legal and Taxed vs. Illegal

According to the Tax Foundation, “Excessive tax rates on cigarettes approach de facto prohibition in some states, inducing black and gray market movement of tobacco products into high tax states from low tax states or foreign sources.” The foundation estimates that as much as half of the cigarettes sold in the state of New York are smuggled, with no or phony tax stamps. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance reports that “The state excise tax rate is $4.35 per package of 20 cigarettes. The New York City local excise tax is $1.50 per package of 20 cigarettes, bringing the combined tax rate for a package of 20 cigarettes purchased in New York City to $5.85.”

While studies have shown that high tax rates on cigarettes result in a decrease in smoking, there is also a correlation between higher tax rates and cigarette smuggling. Relatively little study has been made, however, on any potential “sweet spot” that finds a balance between legal and taxed markets against illegal markets.

What do you think: How can marijuana be made less attractive to illegal dealers? Leave a comment below.

About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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