Ocean State Prevention Alliance
Nancy DeNuccio, Chair
Prevention Focus: Marijuana Policy
In this interview, Nancy DeNuccio discusses the Ocean State Prevention Alliance’s focus on marijuana legislation in Rhode Island.
What is the Ocean State Prevention Alliance (OSPA)?
The Ocean State Prevention Alliance is a coalition of prevention specialists and mental health professionals who are committed to reducing the negative impact that marijuana legislation is likely to have on Rhode Island communities, especially youth.
About three years ago, OSPA started with eight communities who were Drug Free Communities grantees. We had more resources through this grant to be able to collaborate on a regular basis. We assessed that the marijuana issue was a place that we could really have some impact. We realized that if we were going to have an impact we had to formalize ourselves and so that ad hoc group that was just meeting casually got a little bit bigger, and we decided to write bylaws and elect officers and became a little bit stronger.
How does OSPA work with different types of stakeholders in the alliance?
OSPA has a board of directors that works with a broad range of affiliates, such as AAA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), local police departments and local substance abuse prevention coalitions. We take an environmental approach to public health issues. Having a diverse array of stakeholders allows us to call on their individual expertise to create a strong, scientific response to marijuana issues in Rhode Island.
Also, OSPA is the Rhode Island affiliate of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). Nationally and in Rhode Island, SAM has been instrumental in providing research and facts that we can use in rebutting the argument to legalize marijuana.
What issues and policies is OSPA focusing on this year? Why are these areas targeted?
The major thing that we are working on is this year is combating the movement the Marijuana Policy Project is pushing to tax and regulate marijuana. It should be called the ‘Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Act’. We think that if this was passed it would be truly detrimental to our communities and our families. We have and continue to develop factual, scientific responses to counter the promotion of marijuana legalization.
We are also advocating for amendments to improve current marijuana legislation, such as the Decriminalization of Marijuana law. Currently funding for marijuana initiatives is from the Rhode Island General Fund; we would love to make sure this funding goes to prevention and treatment of marijuana. The primary amendment we are advocating for to the Decriminalization Act would move the jurisdiction to family court instead of to traffic tribunals. The main reason being that in the traffic tribunal, there is no ability to do an assessment for referral to treatment. We are 100% behind the court being responsible for jurisdiction also being able to refer to treatment.
One success is that OSPA was instrumental in getting the Attorney General to approve a marijuana workgroup that has an even broader base of intersecting sectors represented. We are working with them to develop testimony for the state legislature.
What are some of the current challenges that OSPA is facing in RI?
We are functioning on limited resources; OSPA’s work is almost all volunteer driven. We were able to generate a little income by developing marijuana updates for the Rhode Island substance abuse prevention coalitions. OSPA sent out four marijuana updates that the coalitions were able to print or email out to their communities.
We can help Rhode Island communities generate marijuana related media and OSPA has a website which can be used to facilitate this. We would like to be a policy resource for the state of Rhode Island. We want the legislators to look at us as being a source of science based, factual information on marijuana issues.
What’s next for OSPA?
We are planning to be involved in a Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) fundraising event that will be offered through Butler Hospital. If the legalization legislation doesn’t go through this year, we think it will continue be brought up year after year. In the meantime, we have to continually ready the workforce, and educate families and communities about the dangers of marijuana.