Rhode Island Senate Approves Legal Cannabis

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Rhode Island just made history by approving a legal cannabis bill. The proposed legislation passed 29-9 earlier this week. 

The bill is sponsored by Michael McCaffrey, Democrat and the Senate Majority Leader and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller, another Democrat. It was introduced back in March, and another legal cannabis proposal was brought up in the state by Governor Dan McKee. 

“It is a historic day, as it is the first time a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis has reached the floor of either legislative chamber in Rhode Island,” Miller said regarding the bill. “It is important that we act expeditiously to enact a regulatory framework. 

“Cannabis legalization is as much about reconciliation as it is revenue,” McCaffrey added regarding the reasons behind introducing this bill. “[P]olicies of prohibition have disproportionately impacted communities of color, and I believe we must ensure any effort to legalize cannabis recognizes and rectifies those wrongs. 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.”

Not only do the Senate and governor have bills introduced, the House does, too. Rhode Island’s House of Representatives also has a bill backed by Scott Slater, a Democrat. However, the House will not be considering the bill until summer or all, while the Senate is moving forward. 

Dominick Ruggerio, president of the Rhode Island Senate, claims he wants both the House and Senate to work together with the governor in order to ensure that legal cannabis passes. 

“Under the status quo, with cannabis readily available, Rhode Island must address all the societal costs, but we have no regulatory framework and no associated revenue stream. The longer we wait to open a cannabis marketplace, the further behind we fall from a competitive standpoint,” he said about the groups coming together and making change. “I encourage our partners in government to continue to work with us to bring this needed legislation over the goal line.”

Rhode Island Cannabis Progress

Mckee admits that, although he supports legalization, it’s “not like one of my highest priorities, and also said that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.” 

“I think we need to get it right,” he explained about the potential plan moving forward. 

The House Finance Committee talked about the governor’s prohibition plan back in April, discussing what action Rhode Island should take. 

If this bill becomes law, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis, as well as possess an ounce at a time. Like in other states, legal adults could also grow up to 6 plants at a time for their own use. 

The new market would be regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission to keep track of legal cannabis and give out licenses to potential sellers in the industry. There would be a 7 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis, and a 10 percent special tax and 3 percent local tax in areas that allowed legal cannabis. 

The bill also makes it clear in a special amendment passed by the Judiciary Committee that there “shall be no new cannabis cultivators’ licenses issued prior to July 1, 2023.” Data and the industry would be examined annually to  “determine the maximum number of licenses that shall be issued to meet the production demands.”

Labor peace agreements will also be required for businesses, a move that cannabis advocates help will gain support from those who are pro-union. 

It remains to be seen if Rhode Island will move forward, but it is clear that there is a lot of support for the bill and other legalization plans in the state.