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Rhode Island Lawmakers To Vote On New Marijuana Legalization Bill This Week

By Hunter Dublin | May 18, 2022

Rhode Island lawmakers have introduced a freshly updated marijuana legalization proposal, which will be heard in two committees this week and then debated on the floors of both houses the following week.

The legislation results from months of negotiations between legislators and the governor, who released his own legalization proposal in January as part of a budget proposal.

The identical companion legislation, sponsored by Senator Joshua Miller (D) and Representative Scott Slater (D), is now available for action. The voting schedule of the bills is on Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Finance Committee. Floor votes are scheduled for May 24 if they get through those panels.

"I'm glad that everyone involved—advocates, existing industry, patients, legislative leaders, and the governor's office—worked extremely collaboratively to smooth out the bumps and craft a package that works for all parties," Miller stated in a news statement. "We all wanted to accomplish this in a safe way that preserves income in Rhode Island and is as fair and equal as we could do it."

"The revised bill is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance, and acknowledging that we cannot make this transition unless we take immediate action to make whole the families, communities, and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition," he said.

While the core elements of the new replacement amendment remain similar to the measure as introduced and discussed at earlier committee hearings in March, lawmakers incorporated comments and made critical adjustments to reach an agreement.

For example, the legislation was amended to streamline the recreational licensing process for existing medical cannabis dispensaries, allowing the existing Office of Cannabis Regulation to authorize them to serve as hybrid retailers that also serve the adult-use market rather than waiting for regulatory responsibility to be transferred to the bill's new Cannabis Control Commission.

Legislators also struck an agreement on expungements, with the related legislation now requiring the state to grant automatic relief to those with past cannabis offenses by July 1, 2024. People who proactively petition the courts, on the other hand, will have their record sealing accelerated.

In terms of the local authority, communities that already operate medical marijuana compassion centers could not opt out of permitting recreational businesses. The updated legislation also contains additional wording that allows towns to opt back in if they first refuse to authorize dispensaries. Individual jurisdictions might potentially establish their own public consumption laws by ordinance.

The modified measure also eliminates payments for medicinal cannabis plant tags and patient IDs until adult-use sales begin on December 1, which is one month later than the original bill's start date of

October 1.

Additionally, certain wording about the appointment of regulators to a cannabis commission was modified. While the original measure called for legislative leaders to make initial picks and furnish the governor with a list of panel candidates, Gov. Dan McKee (D) had constitutional issues about the process; thus, the updated bill defers that authority to the governor alone. According to the sponsors, the modification is the product of close collaboration with the governor's office.

Other essential components of the measure, like regulatory power, tax policy, and the fundamental structure for adult-use stores, remained unchanged.

"Throughout this process, social fairness has been a primary priority for us," Slater added. "Senator Miller and I represent some of the areas that have suffered disproportionately for decades due to prohibition, causing generational poverty and mass imprisonment." People in impoverished, urban, and minority areas face different challenges. They require assistance to ensure they get the full benefits of legalization."

Miller previously stated that legislators "did our best effort" to get the measures correct, and he emphasized his openness to comments from colleagues and stakeholders.

The governor's office thanked lawmakers for "their partnership on an important measure."

"While this law differs from the Governor's initial plan, it achieves his goals of ensuring equitable, controlled, and safe legalization," a McKee official stated. "We look forward to seeing the final measure of the General Assembly and signing adult-use cannabis legalization into law."


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