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News, Politics

Rhode Island Moves Forward With Recreational Legalization

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

June 23, 2022 03:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Rhode Island Moves Forward With Recreational Legalization

Medical cannabis has been legal in the state of Rhode Island since 2006. Now, recreational cannabis will be legal too! Once Gov. Dan McKee signs the recreational cannabis bill, Rhode Island will become the 19th state in America to legalize adult-use cannabis.

According to House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney, it took several months of what was considered intense negotiation along with the collaboration of stakeholders to make it happen. Mr. Abney was quoted telling the media, “This Bill represents a solid foundation for the regulation of the cannabis industry within our state. This is a good, strong, fair, and equitable bill.”

Only five Republicans and 11 Democrats in the House were against legalizing recreational cannabis in Rhode Island, with a vote of 55-16 supporting the bill. The Rhode Island state Senate saw even less opposition, with only five Republicans and three Democrats opposing the bill. It passed the Senate 32-6.

Unfounded Opposition to Passing Legalization

Those opposed to recreational cannabis legalization cited concerns such as increased access by children and impacts on the defense industry. Leaders throughout the Rhode Island law enforcement community suggested that they would have a hard time dealing with the widespread usage of cannabis and preventing consumers from driving under the influence.

State Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Pawtucket) wasn’t having it, though. She said, “We will figure it out when it comes to driving under the influence of cannabis, just like we figured out alcohol.” Concerns about the defense industry stem from it being Rhode island’s highest-paying civilian wage sector. It’s estimated that the annual civilian wage in the defense industry sector is around $111,000 a year. It’s likely that the impact of cannabis on this industry will be minimal, however, considering that federally controlled employees would still be subject to drug testing.

Combatting the Issue of Cannabis Intoxicated Driving

The issue of driving while under the influence of cannabis is a controversial one. Recent research has revealed that THC does impact driving ability, but preventing cannabis DUIs is not easy. Unlike other substances, cannabis stays in your system for anywhere from two weeks to a month or more depending on the detection method. This makes it extremely difficult to determine if someone is currently intoxicated by THC to the point of being unable to drive.

There are also varying levels of intoxication; long-time consumers have a much higher tolerance than someone who is new to cannabis and may not be as affected by having it in their system. Cannabis is also medicinal, and many medical users depend on it daily. Traditional methods of intoxication used for detecting alcohol, like breathalyzers, have been eliminated as options for cannabis testing, and experts are currently trying to develop a more accurate means of identifying cannabis intoxication.

Regulating Rec in Rhode Island 

Despite some of the final attempts by various lawmakers to oppose legalization, recreational cannabis is slated to be legalized with the governor’s signature and will become effective immediately. This will allow residents 21 and older in the state of Rhode Island to possess cannabis and grow it at home. Recreational cannabis sales are set to kick-off for the holiday season in December.

The Cannabis Control Commission will be responsible for regulating and overseeing the industry. The legislation allows a maximum of 33 cannabis retail stores in the state. Additionally, the passage of the recreational cannabis bill will automatically expunge tens of thousands of cannabis possession charges (this excludes possession charges combined with other crimes). Currently, it is estimated that Rhode Island has 27,000 possession charges going all the way back to the 1970s.

Sales tax for Rhode Island’s recreational cannabis will be a whopping 20%, including a 10% cannabis tax, a 3% city or town tax, and a 7% sales tax. As with many places that have recreational cannabis, it may be legal, but it is not legal everywhere. Landlords, cities, and towns have the right to prohibit vaping or smoking cannabis.

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