Rhode Island became the 19th state to legalize recreational cannabis for adults after the governor signed a bill into law approving the reform.
The Rhode Island Cannabis Act permits adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis in public and ten ounces at home, as well as to grow up to six plants, of which only three may be mature, and purchase limited quantities at licensed retailers.
The provisions allowing for marijuana possession and home cultivation took effect immediately upon the signature of Gov. Dan McKee, an advocate of legal cannabis who had previously proposed reforming Rhode Island’s marijuana laws through his annual state budget.
“The bill I signed today into law ensures that legalization is equitable, controlled and safe,” McKee said. “Those were three things that were very important to all of us when we were negotiating this final agreement as Rhode Island begins this new chapter.”
Instead, lawmakers, industry stakeholders, and the governor’s administration agreed on legislation that swiftly passed through House and Senate committees before garnering full approval on the chamber floors.
The enacted bill provides for automatic reviews and expungements of cannabis-related offenses that are now legal, with the measure compelling the courts to seal the criminal records of eligible individuals by no later than July 1, 2024.
The new law details aspects of the regulatory and licensing framework that will govern Rhode Island’s legal cannabis industry. Up to 33 marijuana retail facilities will initially operate in the state, and existing medical cannabis dispensaries will have initial priority for recreational licenses and may even start selling to the adult-use market by the end of this year.
The measure includes provisions that will ensure a portion of taxes collected through cannabis sales will be reinvested into communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.
The bill will also create programs to help social equity applicants get a foothold as business owners in the legal cannabis industry, while 25 percent of marijuana business licenses must be issued to such applicants. Another 25 percent will be set aside for worker-owned cooperatives.
The legal cannabis industry in Rhode Island will be regulated by the newly-established Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) as well as an administrative Cannabis Office.
Responding to Rhode Island joining the ever-growing list of states that have legalized recreational marijuana, NORML executive director Erik Altieri commended the state’s legislature for approving the reform.
“The approval of legalization in Rhode Island is just the latest sign that the overwhelming majority of Americans want marijuana to be legalized and that their lawmakers are becoming more responsive to this growing public sentiment,” he said.
Only Illinois, Vermont, and Virginia have legalized recreational cannabis through the legislature, with the other 15 states ending marijuana prohibition through citizen-approved ballot initiatives.
This year, voters in South Dakota, Maryland, and Missouri are set to decide at the ballot box on whether or not to legalize cannabis, while others could follow.