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Rhode Island’s Adult-Use Push

While competing legalization proposals from lawmakers are vetted, Rhode Island inches closer to a recreational pot plan.

Photo by Erin Hinterland, Pixabay

It seems like just a matter of time before Rhode Island okays a pot plan, as both the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Dan McKee support legalization. In fact, the governor and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey have both introduced competing legalization proposals. 

Those proposals received a joint hearing from two Senate committees as lawmakers must decide which bill to back, or begin negotiations on a unifying bill.

While the two legalization measures look a great deal alike, there are some key differences.

The governor’s proposal calls for sales to begin in Rhode Island in April 2022. His plan caps retail business licenses at 25 per year for the first three years of the program. While the licenses would be awarded through a lottery, five would be set aside for minority applicants. If there were a demand for additional businesses after the first three years of the adult-use program, more licenses would be issued. The lawmakers’ bill would establish a commission appointed by the governor that would award Cannabis business licenses. 

Both bills allow for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, while McCaffrey’s plan also permits home cultivation. The governor’s plan only decriminalizes home grows, enforcing different fines and penalties.

When it comes to taxing Cannabis, both bills propose similar plans that ultimately amount to a 20 percent tax on retail pot. Analysts examining the governor’s plan estimate the state could take in approximately $16.9 million in tax revenue in 2023.

Neither bill is strong on social equity. The governor’s plan simply calls for a task force that would recommend how to best use tax revenue to support equity programs, while the lawmakers’ plan would use license and application fees to create a fund that somehow helps promote inclusive participation.

While other states have reserved a percentage of licenses or prioritized equity applicants, no such efforts are present in the Rhode Island bills.

The lawmakers’ plan does at least allow for expungement of past pot-related criminal records. While the governor has voiced support for expungement previously, he doesn’t include the provision in his proposal.

Rhode Island has been on the cusp of legalization for some time now. Former Gov. Gina Raimondo, who left office after President Biden selected her for Secretary of Commerce, had been an outspoken proponent of reform, urging the state to keep up with its New England neighbors.

Even four-legged Rhode Island residents could benefit from marijuana-law reform in the state as Rep. Patricia Serpa recently introduced legislation that would allow veterinarians to prescribe medical Cannabis to pets. 

While the human adult-use bills are still in the committee stage in the Senate, and legislators have questions about impaired driving and creating a more inclusive Cannabis industry, legalization in Rhode Island appears to be on the horizon.