A legalization bill for Rhode Island is expected to be ready sometime during quarter one of 2022.
Last week, Rhode Island Representative and House Speaker Joe Shekarchi mentioned the progress of a cannabis legalization bill for his state, which is almost ready to be introduced.
Shekarchi was featured in an interview with WPRI to discuss the anticipation of a fall session and cannabis legalization, which has come and gone without a mention. In response, he elaborated about the delay and what’s left to accomplish.
“We’re still not there. We’ve worked very hard and continue to work. There were a lot of differences in the versions between the House version, the Senate version, the Governor’s version,” Shekarchi said. “I am happy to report that we’ve worked down to almost one issue that’s left, but it’s not there yet.” He confirmed that through a meeting he will attend this week, he intends to wrap up that loose end so that he might introduce legislation in the first quarter of 2022.
The issue he refers to is in regard to which agency will be responsible for state regulation. Currently, the responsibility will lie with either an independent cannabis commission, the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR) or possible some hybrid between the two.
“We’re studying other states. But the marijuana bill in general is a very complicated piece of legislation,” he said. “People just say ‘legalize it.’ It touches very different areas of the law. It touches taxation. We have to make sure that we’re doing it right.”
Between the DBR, the Department of Health and other agencies, Shekarchi also noted that legislators are looking into a proper expungement plan to include in the bill. “It’s a very thick bill. And it’s in a lot of different areas of law, and I want to make sure we do it right. I don’t necessarily want to be the first, I want to be the best.”
In July, Shekarchi stated that a cannabis legislation bill was just a “workable” possibility. “Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said.
“If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.” Fortunately, legislators have helped to bring legalization in Rhode Island much closer to reality, with Shekarchi making good on a promise of a legalization bill that he announced in November 2020.
In June, the Rhode Island Senate also introduced a legalization bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller. “Cannabis legalization is as much about reconciliation as it is revenue,” McCaffrey shared in a press release.
“The Justice Reinvestment prison reform initiative showed that policies of prohibition have disproportionately impacted communities of color, and I believe we must ensure any effort to legalize cannabis recognizes and rectifies those wrongs,” McCaffrey continued. “Low barriers to entry, expungement reform, and broad access to programs designed to increase access for individuals and communities impacted by the failed War on Drugs are an important and necessary component.”
The state’s medical cannabis program has been met with a few setbacks recently, however. A lawsuit delayed the lottery planned in August, due to an appeal from a rejected applicant, Atlas Enterprises Inc. It wasn’t until October that the lottery was able to move forward, with five new applicants chosen.
However, the sixth and last dispensary license is still available, as Atlas Enterprises Inc. withdrew the appeal in November. These new medical cannabis dispensary applicants are expected to open sometime in 2022; however, there are three dispensaries open right now in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth. A total of nine dispensaries are allowed in the state, as of 2019.