After years of discussion and debate, Rhode Island has finally legalized possession and sales of recreational cannabis. Yesterday Governor Dan McKee signed into law a bill that passed both houses of the General Assembly on Tuesday.
Rhode Island is the 19th state to legalize recreational weed, along with the District of Columbia. The last state to legalize marijuana was Rhode Island’s neighbor Connecticut, in June 2021. Among New England states, cannabis remains illegal only in New Hampshire.
Legal recreational sales will not be allowed before Dec. 1 at the earliest, but possession of up to one ounce of flower by adults over 21 on their person—and up to 10 ounces legally secured in a residence—is legal immediately. Private individuals can also now cultivate and possess up to six plants (including up to three dried plants) at a time, according to Marijuana Moment.
Public use is currently legal wherever cigarette smoking is allowed, but the new law allows municipalities to ban or restrict the “smoking or vaporizing of cannabis in public places,” according to the Providence Journal.
Rules for the new recreational market will be written by the newly created three-member Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), a Cannabis Advisory Board, and an administrative Cannabis Office. The governor appoints CCC members.
“This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” Gov. McKee said. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions.” Rhode Island courts will automatically expunge convictions for crimes that are now legal activities by July 1, 2024. However, people may request expungement sooner and the process will be expedited.
State regulators have a mandate to set limits on THC content or strength for each kind of cannabis product, including “reasonable potency or dosing limits for cannabis concentrates and edible products.” The limits do not apply to state licensed medical cannabis products.
In addition to the usual seven percent state sales tax, customers will pay a 10 percent state excise tax and a three percent local tax in municipalities that allow recreational sales—a total of 20 percent in taxes on any recreational purchase. Cities and other municipalities that don’t already have medical cannabis sales can choose not to allow recreational sales if residents vote against allowing it.
The law has several social equity components that favor business applicants from communities disproportionately hurt by the Drug War. It sets aside 25 percent of the 24 new recreational licenses for businesses at least 51 percent owned by people who have lived in a community disproportionately impacted by the prohibition of cannabis for five of the last 10 years, have been arrested for or convicted of crimes that will now qualify for expungement, or meeting certain income limits. Another quarter of the first group of licenses are reserved for worker-owned co-ops.
Up to nine existing medical cannabis dispensaries could be licensed to also sell recreational products. They would have to pay a $125,000 fee to do so. No business will be allowed to hold licenses for multiple facilities.
There are currently three medical dispensaries in the state, located in Portsmouth, Providence and Warwick. According to Leafly, the bill eliminates some current fees for medical patients and caregivers. Existing medical cannabis cultivators will have a monopoly on producing weed for the legal market for two years, then licenses for additional growers can be granted.