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Rhode Island Legalization Bill Set for Early 2022 Introduction

The Rhode Island legalization bill is due to arrive in quarter one 2022.

Joe Shekarchi, Rhode Island’s Representative and House Speaker, mentioned last week that a bill to legalize cannabis in Rhode Island is nearing completion.

WPRI interviewed Shekarchi about the anticipated fall session, as well as cannabis legalization. He was not mentioned. In response, he elaborated about the delay and what’s left to accomplish. 

“We’re still not there. We’ve worked very hard and continue to work. There were a lot of differences in the versions between the House version, the Senate version, the Governor’s version,” Shekarchi said. “I am happy to report that we’ve worked down to almost one issue that’s left, but it’s not there yet.” He confirmed that through a meeting he will attend this week, he intends to wrap up that loose end so that he might introduce legislation in the first quarter of 2022.

His question is about which agency will regulate the state. At the moment, it is unclear whether the State Department of Business Regulation (DBR), an independent Cannabis Commission, or some combination of the two will be responsible for state regulation. 

“We’re studying other states. But the marijuana bill in general is a very complicated piece of legislation,” he said. “People just say ‘legalize it.’ It touches very different areas of the law. This includes taxation. We have to make sure that we’re doing it right.” 


Shekarchi noted that the DBR, Department of Health, and other agencies are all looking at a plan for expungement to be included in the bill. “It’s a very thick bill. And it’s in a lot of different areas of law, and I want to make sure we do it right. I don’t necessarily want to be the first, I want to be the best.”

In July, Shekarchi stated that a cannabis legislation bill was just a “workable” possibility. “Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said. 

“If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.” Fortunately, legislators have helped to bring legalization in Rhode Island much closer to reality, with Shekarchi making good on a promise of a legalization bill that he announced in November 2020.

In June, the Rhode Island Senate also introduced a legalization bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller. “Cannabis legalization is as much about reconciliation as it is revenue,” McCaffrey shared in a press release.

“The Justice Reinvestment prison reform initiative showed that policies of prohibition have disproportionately impacted communities of color, and I believe we must ensure any effort to legalize cannabis recognizes and rectifies those wrongs,” McCaffrey continued. “Low barriers to entry, expungement reform, and broad access to programs designed to increase access for individuals and communities impacted by the failed War on Drugs are an important and necessary component.”

The state’s medical cannabis program has been met with a few setbacks recently, however. Atlas Enterprises Inc. appealed against a rejection applicant and delayed August’s lottery. It wasn’t until October that the lottery was able to move forward, with five new applicants chosen. 
Atlas Enterprises Inc. retracted the November appeal for the sixth and final dispensary license. They expect the new dispensary applications to open by 2022. There are however three dispensaries currently operating in Providence and Warwick. As of 2019, nine dispensaries were allowed within the state.