Marijuana Bill Passes The Rhode Island Senate
The Senate in Rhode Island earlier in the week green-lit a proposal to legalize cannabis. This marijuana bill was approved by the chambers Judiciary Committee this past week, with a victorious 29-9 vote. The lead sponsors of the bill are Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey. Back in March, both have taken the action to introduce the bill. Which was done days before Gov. Dan McKee came out with his legalization proposal.
“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 before the vote.
“It is important that we act expeditiously to enact a regulatory framework,” he added, noting policy changes in surrounding states such as Connecticut. where the state’s governor signed a legalization bill into law earlier on Tuesday.
“Cannabis legalization is as much about reconciliation as it is revenue,” McCaffrey said in a press release. “[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.”
Recently filed was an additional proposal that makes for a 3rd Rhode Island legalization measure. This particular piece of cannabis legislation was filed by House Rep. Scott Slater and several other cosponsors. Yet the Senate has taken further action with the leaders’ cannabis proposal. While this was happening House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi recently indicated that legalization wouldn’t be taken up until the summer or fall.
The Next Step For Legal Cannabis in Rhode Island
Dominick Ruggerio who is the Senate President shared his thoughts on the matter. In a recent press release, he stated he wants to work with the governor and the House to get the reform done before the end of 2021.
“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. “I encourage our partners in government to continue to work with us to bring this needed legislation over the goal line.”
McKee, for his part, told reporters earlier in the day that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”
“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.
The House Finance Committee reviewed the governor’s cannabis bill to end prohibition at a hearing in April. The measure passed in the Senate earlier this week would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess 28 grams of marijuana. As well those of age could also grow up to six plants for personal use.
What Will Happen Next For Cannabis Reform In Rhode Island?
A Cannabis Control Commission would be created to regulate the market and issue business licenses. In addition to this Marijuana would take part in the Rhode Islands seven percent sales tax. Which is in addition to a 10 percent special tax and a three percent local tax. Mainly for communities that permit cannabis businesses to operate in their area.
Under a replacement amendment adopted by the Judiciary Committee, the proposal specifies that there “shall be no new cannabis cultivators’ licenses issued prior to July 1, 2023.” Regulators would also be tasked with examining data yearly to “determine the maximum number of licenses that shall be issued to meet the production demands.”
It was also modified from its initial form. Which would now require labor peace arrangements for marijuana businesses. A stipulation that could reinforce support among cannabis advocates.
Final Thoughts On Rhode Island Legalizing Marijuana
Operating a vehicle while under the influence of cannabis would be against the law. However, people can’t be judged impaired “solely for having cannabis metabolites in his or her system” under the bill. That also signifies an expansion, as the original bill would have only applied that protection to medical cannabis patients.
People with previous cannabis convictions for possession of up to two ounces of cannabis could have their records expunged. Which in comparison to the previous bill would of limited that threshold to one ounce. Still, courts would have 3 months, rather than just one, to act on expungement appeals.
Beyond just expungements, the bill currently includes stipulations in regards to sealing past records. People or entities cannot own more than one marijuana business license. Yet the substitute version now clarifies that people would be able to invest in multiple operations.
Each district could have at least three cannabis retailers operating in their area. Yet the threshold of people for extra licensees was increased. This made it so additional retailers could be approved for every additional 20,000 residents above a baseline of 30,000. The original bill placed the threshold at every 10,000 people over the 30,000 baselines, so this would have the effect of limiting the number of retailers.
The bill’s passage in the Senate comes in contrast to recent comments from House leadership. To which the speaker saying last week that it’s “possible we will return sometime in the summer or fall”. This would be the plan to tackle legalization. He said the priority is to pass the budget this month. The governor also said that he “wouldn’t be surprised if this is something that gets carried over maybe to a fall session.”
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