R.I. Lawmakers Stand Down In Dispute With Governor Over Medical Marijuana Laws

The power struggle started last year.
Rhode Island Officials Reject Opioid Dependency as Qualifier for Medical Cannabis
Brian Goodman/ Shutterstock

A standoff in Rhode Island over the state’s medical marijuana industry came to an end this week, with legislators ultimately acquiescing to the state’s governor.

Identical bills passed Tuesday in the Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives in which the lawmakers agreed to relinquish power they bestowed upon themselves last year to have some say over the state’s medical marijuana regulations. 

The power struggle erupted last year after lawmakers unveiled a state budget that included a “legislative veto” when it comes to cannabis and hemp regulations in Rhode Island—a move that came after state Gov. Gina Raimondo sought to impose restrictions that would bar six new dispensaries from growing pot. The three currently open dispensaries are both retail and grow operations.

Leaders in the state General Assembly assailed Raimondo’s proposal as a gross overreach of power.

Their originally proposed budget called for the six new dispensaries to be “subject to approval by the General Assembly prior to enactment,” which prompted Raimondo to sue the legislature.

The lawsuit, filed in October, said that the “legislative veto” provision was unconstitutional and that the legislators violated the separation of powers by giving themselves the right to veto.

Ultimately, the legislators blinked first. The dual bills passed on Tuesday abolish the “legislative veto,” giving the power back to the governor.

According to the Providence Journal, Raimondo is expected to sign the legislation on Wednesday.

Raimondo had existing cannabis cultivators on her side in the debate; the Journal said they “turned out in force at State House hearings on the bills last month, opposed to anything that would allow the new dispensaries to grow.”

John Marion Jr., the Rhode Island executive director for Common Cause, a nonpartisan group dedicated to good governance, also celebrated this week’s legislation.

“It’s a victory for separation of powers because this was the most blatant attempt to claw back power by the Assembly since the 2004 constitutional amendment,” Marion told the Journal. “It is good to see that the Assembly passed not only a repeal, but a clean repeal so they didn’t muddy the issue as the original bill did with substantive issues over marijuana dispensaries. They did what they needed to do to be right by the Rhode Island Constitution.”

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