Rhode Island Senate, House Lawmakers Align on Cannabis Legalization; Votes Expected
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Rhode Island Senate, House Lawmakers Align on Cannabis Legalization; Votes Expected

A key amendment added to companion adult-use bills is scheduled to be considered in committee this week, followed by floor action next week.

May 17, 2022

As 2022 legislative sessions have ended for roughly half of state legislatures in the U.S., adult-use cannabis legalization proposals have remained unfinished business.  

Rhode Island is on course to change that.

House and Senate lawmakers sponsoring companion legislation—Senate Bill 2430 and House Bill 7593—that aims to legalized the sale and possession of up to 1 ounces of cannabis for those 21 and older, unveiled a key amendment May 17 that they say will move their efforts forward with committee votes this week and full-chamber votes next week.

While Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Scott A. Slater—both Democrats—introduced their legislation March 1, the latest version announced Tuesday includes a provision to provide automatic expungement for previous cannabis convictions. Specifically, those with any prior civil violation, misdemeanor or felony conviction for possession of cannabis that would be decriminalized by the bill would receive expungement free of charge and without a hearing.

In addition, their amendment would push back the launch date for commercial adult-use sales to Dec. 1—two months after originally proposed. Also, their latest proposal would eliminate the current registration fees charged to patients and caregivers in Rhode Island’s medical cannabis program.

Based on committee testimonies and debate since their March 1 introduction, Miller and Slater said they anticipate their underlying legislation and proposed amendment to gain approval in the House Finance and Senate Judiciary committees May 18, before full-floor considerations in each chamber ensue on May 24.

“I’m proud that everyone involved—the advocates, the existing industry, patients, legislative leaders and the governor’s office—worked very cooperatively to smooth out the bumps and create a proposal that works for all the stakeholders,” Miller said in a press release.

“We all wanted to do this in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it,” he said. “The amended bill is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance and recognizing that we cannot make this transition without taking action to make whole the communities and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition.”

In addition to purchasing and possessing up to 1 ounce of cannabis in public, adults could possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis in their personal residences and grow up to six plants (three mature) in their homes, according to the bill’s text.

The originally proposed tax structure, including a 10% state cannabis excise tax, a 7% sales tax and a 3% local tax for municipalities where sales take place, remains in the current version of the bill.

In addition, the legislation would limit licensed cannabis retailers to 33 statewide, distributed in six zones, but municipalities would have the option to opt out of participating in the state’s retail program. The license cap includes the nine existing compassionate centers that could become hybrid medical and adult-use dispensaries.

Miller and Slater’s amendment did not make changes to social equity provisions aimed at reducing participation barriers for communities and individuals disproportionately affected by prohibition, including the use of licensing fees and penalties to fund assistance and grants for qualifying applicants.

“Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process,” Slater said in the release. “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. 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.”

One retail license in each of the six zones will be reserved for a social equity applicant and another in each zone for a co-op.