Rep. Scott Slater and Sen. Josh Miller, along with many cosponsors in the House and Senate, formally introduced a pair of identical bills Tuesday to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older in Rhode Island. The long-awaited legislation is the product of many months of discussions among top lawmakers in the state, including Senate President Dominic Ruggerio and Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi, who have both indicated they believe this to be the year Rhode Island joins 18 other states with adult-use cannabis legalization laws. The first committee hearing on the bill is expected to be scheduled toward the end of this month.
The legislation would:
- Allow adults to possess and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis (and up to 10 ounces in a person’s residence) and cultivate up to three cannabis plants in their homes;
- Establish a three-member commission appointed by the governor and leaders of the General Assembly to oversee the regulation and licensing of cannabis businesses;
- Impose a cannabis retail excise tax of 10%, in addition to the normal sales tax rate of 7%, with another 3% local sales tax;
- Require that a quarter of all new retail licenses be awarded to applicants that qualify as social equity businesses and another quarter of new licenses to worker-owned cooperatives; and
- Create a social equity assistance fund to provide grants, job training programs, and social services for communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization.
The Marijuana Policy Project has worked with lawmakers and a broad coalition of organizations in the state to advance legalization in recent years. Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager for MPP, praised lawmakers for this latest step forward:
“We are grateful to Speaker Shekarchi, Senate President Ruggerio, and their staff for the many months of work that went into finding common ground and crafting a thoughtful proposal that will end the failed policy of cannabis prohibition and create many economic and social benefits for the state. We’re looking forward to the public discussion on this important issue, and we’re excited that Rhode Island appears poised to join 18 other states that have legalized cannabis for adults later this year.”
Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee has previously expressed support for legalizing cannabis and included a separate legalization proposal in his omnibus budget bill introduced in January. In the coming weeks, MPP intends to work with legislators and other stakeholders to propose improvements to aspects of the General Assembly’s bill, including establishing a process for automated record clearance for past cannabis arrests and convictions.