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Rhode Island Governor Plans “With Reluctance” to Propose Legalizing Marijuana

With reluctance, Gov. Gina Raimondo wants Rhode Island to join its neighbors in the move toward legalization.

Adam Drury

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Rhode Island Governor Plans "With Reluctance" to Propose Legalizing Marijuana
Courtesy of Gina Raimondo/ Facebook

Throughout her first term as Governor of Rhode Island, Democrat Gina Raimondo fought efforts to move the state toward legalizing cannabis. But at the start of her second term, Gov. Raimondo is waving the white flag, conceding that unless Rhode Island wants to be an actual island of prohibition surrounded by legal marijuana states, and that it’s time for it to adopt its own framework for a taxed and regulated industry.

Rhode Island Governor Surrenders to Regional Momentum Toward Legalization

Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed a state budget plan that included legalizing cannabis. In New Jersey, lawmakers are currently working on a regulatory framework for an adult-use industry. Connecticut’s new governor, Ned Lamont, is making marijuana legalization one of the state’s legislative priorities in 2019. And late last year, Massachusetts opened its first retail cannabis shops after legalizing adult use in 2016. Indeed, “things have changed,” as Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo told The Providence Journal.

And they’re changing quickly in a region that has long lagged behind the western U.S. in terms of cannabis legislation. Now, in the face of the “inevitable” prospect of Rhode Island’s neighbors’ legalization, Gov. Raimondo says that by week’s end she’ll issue a formal proposal, included in her July 1 budget plan, to legalize recreational marijuana in Rhode Island.

“I will say, I do this with reluctance,” said the two-term governor. Rhode Island General Assembly members expressed similar sentiments. And for that very reason, Raimondo said she suspects legislative leaders “will probably come to the same conclusion that I have, which is: it’s here, it’s inevitable, so let’s do this right.”

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Extreme Regulation for Future Cannabis Industry

For Gov. Raimondo, doing it right would mean setting up one of the most restrictive and regulated retail industries in the country. But these aren’t just rules and limits on the industry. Gov. Raimondo’s proposals would directly impact the kinds of cannabis products available to consumers.

For example, Gov. Raimondo’s plan would ban home grows. Yet dispensaries would not be permitted to sell concentrates or other high-potency products. At the same time, the plan would cap edibles at 5 mg THC per serving and tax sales at 17 percent. Setting aside roughly $3.6 million to implement the regulated industry, Raimondo estimates it will take until 2020 before brick-and-mortal retail shops open. More details of the governor’s proposal will become available after her announcement later this week.

Gov. Raimondo told reporters the heightened restrictions are necessary to reduce the health and safety problems she says other legal-marijuana states are experiencing. They’re also in place to appease members of the General Assembly who are already taking a cautious and concerned look at legalization. But if Rhode Island doesn’t act, residents won’t have far to look or travel to take advantage of legal markets in neighboring states. For many lawmakers, the potential of bleeding tax revenue to other states may be enough to commit them to action. Those already committed to supporting the governor’s policy shift on legalization are hoping to gain from Massachusetts‘ recent experience with an adult use industry.

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