Legislators in Rhode Island have introduced cannabis legalization legislation.
On Tuesday, Senator Joshua Miller and Representative Scott Slater introduced a pair of companion bills that would legalize, regulate, and tax adult-use cannabis in the state.
If passed, the legislation would allow adults to possess up to ten ounces of cannabis at their homes beginning October 1.
Legal Cannabis in Rhode Island
Under the legislation, Rhode Islanders could legally grow up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants per household.
The legislation would also establish a ten-percent state cannabis excise tax on top of the seven percent sales tax.
There would also be a three-percent local tax in municipalities that sell cannabis.
The legislation would also create an independent three-member cannabis control commission to handle medical cannabis oversight.
The Department of Business Regulation (DBR) is currently in charge of medical cannabis oversight.
The legislation would also establish a medical cannabis advisory board within the DBR.
Senator Miller says it is time for Rhode Island to move cannabis legalization forward.
“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,” says Senator Miller. “To help address those past wrongs and to ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to share the economic benefits associated with legalization, equity is a central focus of this legislation.
Righting Past Wrongs
According to a Rhode Island State Assembly press release, the legislation would address social equity to reduce participation obstacles for communities disproportionately affected by cannabis criminalization.
Under the legislation licensing fees and penalties would help provide technical aid and grants to affected applicants and communities.
The legislation would create up to 33 retail licenses for distribution in six zones across Rhode Island.
Zones would include nine compassion centers that could potentially serve adult and medical cannabis consumers.
In each of the six zones, the legislation would reserve one social equity license and one co-op license.
The legislation would also create an expungement path for people with prior misdemeanor and felony possession convictions for decriminalized amounts of cannabis.
Representative Slater says making cannabis possession and sales legal in Rhode Island is the right public policy.
“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,” says Representative Slater. “I’m especially proud that we have made a very deliberate effort to address social equity through this bill.”
Representative Slater says people need to acknowledge and support communities, particularly minorities, poor, and urban neighborhoods, that cannabis criminalization has harmed.
Building the Bill
According to the press release, legislators developed the legislation over months of discussions involving lawmaking leaders, sponsors, stakeholders, health and community leaders, law enforcement, cultivators, and others.
The release states that the legislation also stems from discussions during legalization bill hearings in previous years, including one that the Senate passed in 2021.
While thanking Representative Slater for his work on the bill, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi says more work lies ahead.
“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,” says Shekarchi. “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey says that while people have worked during previous years, and after the end of the last session, to establish a consensus on details, nearby states have moved ahead of Rhode Island.
McCaffrey says Rhode Island is behind the other states from a competitive standpoint because it is relatively easy for most residents 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,” says McCaffrey. “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. 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.”