Amended cannabis legalization bill passes committees

 

Votes planned in both chambers Tuesday

 

STATE HOUSE – Legislation to legalize, regulate and tax adult recreational cannabis use in Rhode Island cleared committee votes in both the House and the Senate today.

After approval today by the House Finance Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, each chamber now plans a vote on the bill before its full membership Tuesday.

The legislation (2022-S 2430A, 2022-H 7593A), sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Scott A. Slater, decriminalizes the sale and possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis for those age 21 and up, with no more than 10 ounces for personal use kept in a primary residence. It would also allow Rhode Islanders to grow a small amount of their own cannabis at home.

Following testimony and months of discussion on the bill, legislative leaders and the sponsors amended the bill to provide automatic expungement of previous convictions for cannabis possession by July 1, 2024, push the start date of legalized adult recreational sales from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1 and eliminate the current fees charged to patients and caregivers for registration in the state’s medical marijuana program, among other changes.

The legislation establishes a 10% state cannabis excise tax that will be imposed in addition to the 7% sales tax, plus a 3% local tax for the municipality where the sale takes place.

“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. 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. 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,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The amended legislation will provide for automatic expungement by July 1, 2024, of any prior civil violation, misdemeanor or felony conviction for possession of cannabis that would be decriminalized by the bill, without requiring affected individuals to file a request, pay a fee or have a hearing. As originally proposed, the bill required individuals to request expungement, but the sponsors are now confident that the judiciary can develop a system to allow for automatic expungement for all who are eligible. It also provides an expedited process for those who wish to have their record expunged earlier.

The bill allows a total of 33 licensed cannabis retailers statewide, including the nine approved compassion centers that could become hybrid medical/recreational retailers, distributed in six zones. Currently, only the three original licensed compassion centers are up and running, but the sponsors believe it’s possible that at least some of the six more that were recently approved will be open by Dec. 1, and that it is realistic to expect the hybrid licenses that will allow them to sell to recreational users will be approved by then.

Under the amended bill, a three-member Cannabis Control Commission will be appointed by the governor with input from the Speaker of the House and approval from the Senate. That commission will be assisted by a Cannabis Advisory Board and the existing administrative Office of Cannabis Regulation within the Department of Business Regulation. That office will handle the transition to legal recreational use, including issuing hybrid licensing to existing compassion centers and cultivators.

The bill allows municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana sales in their community by referendum, although those currently hosting compassion centers will not have that option. Those hosting existing licensed cultivators or testing labs will be allowed to opt out, although those facilities will be grandfathered in. The amended bill also adds a procedure for a community that opted out to revisit the issue in later years, and allows municipalities to ban cannabis use in public places by ordinance.

The bill aims to reduce barriers to participation for those communities that have long been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition. The proposal uses licensing fees and penalties to fund technical assistance and grants to applicants and communities that have been impacted, and reserves one license in each of the six districts for a social equity licensee and another in each district for a co-op.

“Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process,” said Representative Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence). “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.”

For participants in the state’s existing medical marijuana program, the amended bill eliminates the current fees imposed upon patients, authorized purchasers and primary caregivers for registry identification cards and plant tags, effective when adult recreational sales begins on Dec. 1. The amendment also extends to March 1, 2023, the deadline for those with out-of-state medical marijuana cards to provide government-issued identification from the same jurisdiction.

 

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