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Rhode Island Lawmakers Introduce Cannabis Legalization Bill

With identical bills being introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate of Rhode Island, lawmakers in Rhode Island have unveiled legislation for legalizing cannabis for adults. State Senator Josh Miller, along with Representative Scott Slater introduced the measure. It would allow for possession of one ounce and buy of marijuana.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee chairman Joshua Miller stated Tuesday that cannabis policy reform will be beneficial for the state.

“The time for Rhode Island to move forward with cannabis legalization is now,” Miller said in a statement. “This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities.”

The legislation permits adults to have up to 10 ounces in private locations and allows for up to 1 ounce cannabis to be carried in public. It also allows adults to have up to three mature and immature plants grown at home.

The legislation would create a three-member cannabis control commission to oversee the state’s regulated cannabis industry. Once it is established, the new agency would also take on oversight of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana industry. It also creates the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation’s cannabis regulatory office.

This bill permits up to 33 retail cannabis shops, nine of which would be hybrid dispensaries and could sell both recreational and medical cannabis. A total 20 percent tax would apply to cannabis. This includes a 10 per cent cannabis excise, 7 per sales, and a 3percent local tax. These taxes would be collected by local governments that have licensed cannabis companies. The November ballot could allow jurisdictions to opt out from allowing cannabis retail businesses. However, communities who vote against dispensaries won’t be eligible for tax revenue.

Bill includes Social Equity Provision

Miller noted that “equity is a central focus of this legislation.” The bill includes provisions to use licensing fees and penalties to fund grants and technical assistance to applicants from underserved communities and those harmed by the War on Drugs. For social equity applications, one license will be reserved for each six retail districts. A second license will be available in each district to allow for co-op retail shops.

“It is the right public policy for Rhode Island to make cannabis possession and sales legal. We have been studying legalization proposals here for many years, and we now can look to our neighboring states’ experiences and see that taxing and regulating cannabis makes sense,” said Slater. 

“I’m especially proud that we have made a very deliberate effort to address social equity through this bill. We have to recognize the harm that prohibition has done to communities, particularly minorities and poor, urban neighborhoods and ensure that those communities get the support they need to benefit from legalization.”

The Formerly Incarcerated Union of RI and the Working Families Party, Reclaim RI and the Marijuana Policy Project praised social equity provisions in the bill. They said that worker-owned cooperatives will allow economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs to own shares in legal cannabis. However, they called for the addition of restorative justice measures such as automatic expungement or erasure of previous marijuana convictions.

“The criminalization of cannabis has done harm to so many families in our state, and we are grateful to see the legislature moving forward with a more sensible policy of legalization,” said Cherie Cruz, co-founder of the Formerly Incarcerated Union of R.I. “However, there is no excuse to deny automatic relief from past arrest records and criminal convictions to tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who have been victims of this failed war on cannabis.”

You have more work to do

After thanking Slater for his “tireless” effort on the legislation, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi acknowledged that work still remains on the path to cannabis legalization.

“I want to emphasize that the bill introduced today is not the final product—rather, it is the beginning of the public process of legalizing cannabis for recreational use in Rhode Island,” Shekarchi said. “We welcome input from the public as to whether or how we should implement recreational usage, and I expect robust discussions with House membership as well.”

New Hampshire and Rhode Island are the two New England states which have not yet passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. Governor Dan McKee included a plan to legalize cannabis in his annual budget proposal. Dan McKee presented a plan to legalize marijuana in his annual budget proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey said that lawmakers have “been working hard since the end of last session to establish consensus on the details, but our efforts to address the issue have been going on for many years, during which time our neighboring states have already made this move ahead of us. Rhode Island is now behind them from a competitive standpoint, since it’s fairly easy for most Rhode Islanders to cross the state line to make a legal purchase.” 

“The truth is, legal cannabis is already widely available to Rhode Islanders, but the resulting revenue is not. With this bill, we will create jobs, revenue and control in our own state, and help address some of the inequities that have resulted from prohibition,” McCaffrey continued. “I look forward to working with my colleagues, stakeholders, and the public to ensure that we take the careful, nuanced, and equitable approach we need to transform this economic sector.”