State Watch

Rhode Island governor to sign measure legalizing marijuana

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Rhode Island is poised to become the 19th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use after legislators on Tuesday passed the bill through both the state House and Senate by wide margins.

Gov. Dan McKee (D) said he would sign the bill Wednesday when it reaches his desk.

The bill will immediately legalize the possession of marijuana in Rhode Island, and it will start the clock ticking on sales of recreational cannabis by the end of the year. A newly created Cannabis Control Commission will oversee and regulate the industry.

Rhode Island will eventually allow a maximum of 33 recreational pot dispensaries around the state. The three medical marijuana dispensaries that already operate in the state will be allowed to sell recreational marijuana as well.

New marijuana products will be taxed at about 20 percent, about average among other states where recreational pot sales are legal. Rhode Island will levy a 7 percent sales tax, cities and towns will add a 3 percent sales tax, and products will be subject to an additional 10 percent tax that is likely to add millions of dollars to state coffers.

The new bill will expunge tens of thousands of past charges for marijuana possession. But it allows towns and cities some flexibility in deciding to opt out of the legal regime. Those municipalities will be able to offer voters the chance to ban sales in voter referenda this fall.

“Ending the prohibition of cannabis is about more than tax revenue. The human consequences of cannabis prohibition have lasting ramifications,” said Jax James, who heads state policy for the pro-legalization group NORML. “This long-awaited legislation will work to rectify past wrongs while also moving Rhode Island forward toward a brighter future.”

The path to legalization has been a decadelong process as supporters worked to build a coalition in the legislature. In the final votes, most Democrats voted in favor of the law, while Republicans and a few Democrats voted against. The bill passed the state House in a 55-16 vote, and in the Senate in a 32-6 vote.

Several police chiefs stood in the back of the legislative chamber as the vote passed to register their discontent.

“I don’t approve of this legislation because law enforcement has no real way of testing in the field for marijuana when someone is stopped,” said state Rep. Thomas Noret (D), one of the Democrats who voted against the bill.

McKee, who ascended to the top office after his predecessor Gina Raimondo (D) resigned to become President Biden’s Commerce secretary, will sign the measure at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon. McKee faces Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) and former Secretary of State Matt Brown (D) in September’s primary election.

With his signature, Rhode Island will become the 19th state in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., to legalize recreational marijuana. It was previously one of only two New England states, along with New Hampshire, to bar recreational sales.

Tags Dan McKee marijuana legalization Rhode Island

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