Rhode Island is boxed in by states that have legalized cannabis for adult use. Two neighboring states, New York and Connecticut, did so in early 2021, as Rhode Island’s last push lost steam.
But legal cannabis in Rhode Island is poised to cross the finish line in 2022. The question, though, is the same as it was in 2021: will it be by governor’s budget or by lawmakers’ bill?
Gov. Daniel McKee gave his State of the State Address on Tuesday and on Thursday submitted his budget proposal for FY 2023. It includes, as it did last year, a plan to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, with sales beginning as soon as next year, but no home cultivation allowed.
This was one of the key differences between McKee’s vision for legalized cannabis in the state, and the one that Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and Senator Joshua Miller put forth in Senate Bill 568, which passed out of the Senate in June. And McKee’s new budget is landing just as lawmakers are preparing to introduce a new adult use bill that reflects months of negotiations on competing proposals, including the governor’s.
“The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state,” McKee’s executive budget summary notes.
Almost all of the details are the same as last year: the cultivation tax would be weight based while the retail tax would be 10%, for example; cities and towns would still get 15% of the tax revenue allocation while 25% would go toward “the regulatory, public health, and public safety costs associated with adult-use cannabis.”
What differs this year is the addition of “automatic expungement” language, which brings the governor’s plan one step closer to what lawmakers have proposed, which is stronger on equity. This would, from a budget perspective, result in a “loss of annual court revenue associated with cannabis possession convictions and a write-off of some unpaid charges associated with past convictions.”
McKee also proposes a one-time “investment” to upgrade the technology associated with the state’s existing medical cannabis program, improving the seed-to-sale, licensing, patient registration, and home-grow systems.
Former Gov. Gina Raimondo, who left her post to join President Joe Biden’s administration, also previously tried to legalize cannabis by budget. Her proposal was more restrictive than McKee’s, and called for state government-run shops.
In addition to McCaffrey and Miller’s Senate Bill 568, Rep. Scott Slater introduced House Bill 6370 last year, but no action was taken on that bill.
Greg Paré, spokesperson for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, told Cannabis Wire that it was too soon to comment on McKee’s plan, which was released hours earlier.
“We are close on negotiations for a revised cannabis bill. We expect legislation will be introduced soon and passed this session.”