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Rhode Island Legislature Legalizes Marijuana; Gov. To Sign

It’s another domino down. After years of discussion, Rhode Island lawmakers on Tuesday finally voted to legalize weed

John DePetro

It’s another domino down. After years of discussion, Rhode Island lawmakers on Tuesday finally voted to legalize the sale of marijuana for adult use. The governor is signing the bill Wednesday afternoon.

Rhode Island becomes the 19th state to legalize adult-use marijuana. Colorado and Washington voters made those states the first two, back in 2012. Some three dozen states have medical marijuana programs as well.  

The legalization bill passed easily, with wide margins. The Rhode Island Senate passed a version of the bill 32-6 while the House passed its version 55-16.

House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney, D-Newport, said the bill was the product of “months of intense negotiation and collaboration with numerous stakeholders.”

“This bill represents a solid foundation for the regulation of the cannabis industry within our state,” Abney said, reports WPRI. “This is a good, strong, fair and equitable bill.”

Opponents Voice Tired Old Arguments Against Legalization

The vote in the House came after more than 90 minutes of debate. About a dozen lawmakers aired tired arguments against legalization. 

Many echoed the concerns of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association that the drug remained dangerous. They claimed there’s no reliable test for marijuana-impaired drivers, and that users would be able to smoke pot, like cigarettes, on public sidewalks. 

“You can’t do that with scotch,” said Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster. “It sends a message.”  Rep. Thomas Noret, a Coventry cop, complained that supporters of the bill described it as “good” and “strong.” But “I did not hear the words ‘public safety,’” the pot-hater said, in a lame, policeman attempt at drama.

Sales Will Begin December 1

Gov. Dan McKee’s office said the governor will sign the bill into law Wednesday at a State House ceremony.

Rhodies won’t waste any time getting it done, either. Adult-use Cannabis sales will begin December 1, reports WJAR.

Under the measure, people 21 and older can legally possess up to 1 ounce of pot. Adults can keep up to 10 ounces in their home, and grow three marijuana plants.

The bill also automatically expunges any prior civil violations, misdemeanor, or felony convictions for possession of amounts of marijuana legalized by the legislation.

One Day After Delaware Governor Dropped The Ball

Rhode Island’s new law comes just one day after Delaware Gov. John Carney vetoed legislation that would have legalized adult use there.

“I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people,” Carney said Tuesday.

“Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved,” Carney claimed. (The only ”serious law enforcement concern” WE see is that cops are ”concerned” they won’t be able to harass weed users as badly as they used to.)

“Prohibition Does Not Stop Cannabis Use”

The Rhode Island Cannabis Act was first introduced by State Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and state Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence).

“The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use,” Miller said. “Since Rhode Islanders can already access cannabis just across the state border or on the illicit market, we experience all the challenges without any of the safeguards or resources that our neighboring states have. With this bill, we are ending prohibition in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it.”

Rhode Island will impose a 10 percent state cannabis excise tax, a 7 percent sales tax and a 3 percent tax going to the city where the sale takes place, reports Patch.

33 Adult-Use Pot Shops Statewide

The law allows 33 licensed marijuana retailers statewide, reports The Newport Buzz.

This includes the nine approved compassion centers that could become hybrid medical/recreational retailers, distributed in six zones.

Currently, only the three original licensed compassion centers are up and running. But owners say at least some of the six that were approved will be open by Dec. 1. They believe the hybrid licenses allowing them to sell to adult users will be approved by then.

Social Equity Provisions Included

The bill reduces barriers to participation for communities longh disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition.

The proposal uses licensing fees and penalties to fund assistance and grants to applicants and communities impacted. The law reserves one license in each of the six districts for a social equity licensee and another in each district for a co-op.

“Senator Miller and I represent some of the communities that have suffered disproportionate harm from prohibition for decades, resulting in generational poverty and mass incarceration,” Rep. Slater said. ”The starting line isn’t the same for people in poor, urban and minority communities, and they deserve support to ensure they get the full benefit of participating in legalization. I am grateful to my colleagues in the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of expungement of criminal records and equity in licensing, because they are absolutely critical to ending prohibition fairly.”

The state will expedite expungements for those who fill out a form. Authorities will then automatically expunge marijuana records by July 2024.

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