PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee today signed into law the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, legalizing and safely regulating recreational adult-use cannabis in the state. The Act includes automatic expungement of prior civil or criminal marijuana possession charges, a key provision in the Governor's original cannabis proposal to the General Assembly.
Governor McKee was joined for the historic signing by Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey and the bill sponsors – Senate Committee on Health and Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller and House Deputy Majority Leader Scott A. Slater.
Under the new law, possession and home-growing of cannabis is now legal for adults age 21 and older, and in-store sales may begin as soon as December 1. The law also establishes a framework for common-sense adult use cannabis regulation with a strong emphasis on public health and public safety.
"This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe," said Governor McKee. "In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My Administration's original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically."?
The legislation calls for a 20 percent tax rate, split up into the 7 percent sales tax, a new 10 percent cannabis tax, and a 3 percent tax by the municipality where the marijuana is sold. In addition, the legislation makes numerous investments in the creation of an equitable, accessible cannabis retail market through the set-aside of certain application fee revenues and the reservation of a portion of new licenses for social equity applicants and worker-owned cooperatives.
"The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use. Since Rhode Islanders can already access cannabis just across the state border or on the illicit market, we experience all the challenges without any of the safeguards or resources that our neighboring states have. With this bill, we are ending prohibition in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it. This bill has been years in the making, and is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance and recognizing that we cannot make this transition without taking action to make whole the communities and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition," said bill sponsor Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
"Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process. Senator Miller and I represent some of the communities that have suffered disproportionate harm from prohibition for decades, resulting in generational poverty and mass incarceration. The starting line isn't the same for people in poor, urban and minority communities, and they deserve support to ensure they get the full benefit of participating in legalization. I am grateful to my colleagues in the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of expungement of criminal records and equity in licensing, because they are absolutely critical to ending prohibition fairly," said bill sponsor Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence).
"I thank all the advocates, stakeholders, staff and especially Representative Scott Slater, who has worked tirelessly on this issue for the past decade. The bill represents a strong foundation from which to build the safe, equitable regulation of cannabis for adult use. We are proud that this legislation prioritizes the participation of people most impacted by the past enforcement of cannabis laws both through automatic expungement and the creation of a licensing structure based on social equity," said House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).
"This is a truly momentous day for Rhode Island. I'm deeply grateful to Senator Miller for his years of hard work and leadership on this issue, and I'm incredibly proud to have been part of reaching this point. I also want to thank President Ruggerio for his support throughout this process. Ending cannabis prohibition helps us right past wrongs while creating new opportunities for all Rhode Islanders. This is the right move, at the right time, for our state," said Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick).
Rhode Island is now the 19th state to have legalized cannabis, including Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The new law will give courts until July 1, 2024, to automatically expunge past convictions, and those who want their expungement sooner may request it.