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Rhode Island Governor Signs Cannabis Legalization Bill

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

May 27, 2022

Rhode Island became the 19th state in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis on Wednesday with the signing of a bill by Gov. Dan McKee. The Democratic governor signed the bill, which immediately

possession of small amounts of cannabis, only one day after the measure was approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly.

“This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,”

in a statement. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My Administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.”

The bill legalizes possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older. Possession of up to 10 ounces of cannabis is permitted in a private home, as is the cultivation of up to three mature and three immature marijuana plants. Commercial cannabis cultivation and sales are also legalized by the measure, with licensed sales of adult-use cannabis scheduled to begin on December 1. Sen. Joshua Miller, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the sponsor of the bill, said the bill reforms failed policy.

“The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use,” he 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 Bill Includes Medical Cannabis Reforms

The bill also includes changes for medical cannabis patients, including the elimination of fees for medicinal cannabis cards and plant identification tags. Adults who grow recreational cannabis would still be required to purchase plant tags.

“This bill has been years in the making, and 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,” said Miller.

Licensed sales of marijuana would be taxed a total of 20 percent, including a 10 percent cannabis excise tax, 7 percent sales tax, and a 3 percent levy that would go to local governments hosting licensed cannabis businesses. Local jurisdictions could opt out of allowing retail cannabis businesses with a successful ballot question on this year’s general election ballot, but cities and towns that choose not to allow dispensaries will not receive revenue generated by cannabis taxes. Cities and towns that already have medical cannabis dispensaries would not be able to opt out of hosting retailers.

The measure also includes provisions for the expungement of past convictions for marijuana possession offenses including civil violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. According to an analysis of the impact of the legislation by representatives of the state court system, as many as 27,000 cases where weed possession was the only charge are eligible for expungement. 

“Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process. 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,” said state  Rep. Scott A. Slater, the sponsor of the legislation in the House of Representatives.

He continued, “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.” 

Rhode Island’s cannabis legalization bill went into effect immediately with McKee’s signature, making the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana legal in Rhode Island as of Wednesday afternoon.

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

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