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It’s official: Weed is legal in Rhode Island.
After state legislators passed the bill in both the House and Senate, Governor Dan McKee (D) signed The Rhode Island Cannabis Act into law, making The Ocean State the 19th to legalize marijuana in the U.S. It’s the third state for New England, following Massachusetts and Connecticut.
After months of negotiations between lawmakers, advocates, stakeholders, and the governor’s office, a revised version of the legislation was introduced earlier this month, according to Marijuana Moment. It moved quickly through committee and was approved on the floor on Tuesday, May 14; the governor signed it into law on Wednesday, May 15.
“The bill I signed today into law ensures that legalization is equitable, controlled and safe,” McKee said at the signing ceremony. “Those were three things that were very important to all of us when we were negotiating this final agreement as Rhode Island begins this new chapter.”
What the new law says
Adults 21 and older are now able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, and grow up to six plants for personal use. In-store sales could begin as early as December 21. For the initial rollout, 33 retailers will be licensed, 24 of which could be standalone businesses.
Possession of more than one ounce but up to two ounces for adults 18 and older will be decriminalized, with people facing a civil penalty without the threat of jail time. In addition to decriminalizing possession, by July 2024, the state will automatically expunge prior marijuana possession convictions for amounts now made legal.
According to activist Annajane Yolken, co-chair of the Substance Use Policy, Education and Recovery PAC, there are more than 36,000 Rhode Islanders who still have possession charges on their record. So it will take some time.
“We are pleased that Governor McKee moved swiftly to sign this common-sense legislation into law,” says NORML’s State Policy Manager Jax James. “The overwhelming support for this bill exhibited by lawmakers and the expeditious nature with which it was signed into law is indicative of the strong level of public support that exists in favor of legalization not only in Rhode Island, but also nationwide. This new law will work to rectify past wrongs while also moving Rhode Island forward toward a brighter and more prosperous future.”
Pushing for social equity
Following suit of most legal states, some funds collected from licensing fees will also support a program which aims to assist (mostly) communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the prohibition of cannabis, both by reinvesting in those communities, but also giving financial assistance to those who wish to enter the new marketplace.