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The legalization train continues down the track with the 19th state ending cannabis prohibition. Rhode Island has just joined many of its New England neighbors by allowing the use of cannabis by adults 21 and older.

Governor Dan McKee has long been a proponent of legalization, and was able to get a bill through the state legislature after months of negotiations. As he said at the bill signing ceremony, “it took a great deal of effort — it certainly wasn’t a straight line. It took hundreds of hours of work, meetings, stakeholders sessions, negotiations and collaborations. And that’s how good legislation gets done.”

The two lead sponsors of the legislation were State Representative Scott Slater and State Senator Joshua Miller. Rhode Island’s new law decriminalizes the sale and possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis for adults, and allows up to 10 ounces to be kept at a primary residence for personal use. It also allows Rhode Islanders to grow small amounts of cannabis at home for their personal use — up to six plants. In addition, there is a provision for automatic expungement by July 1, 2024 of prior violations, midemeanors and convictions that the new legislation would decriminalize.

A total of 33 licensed retailers will be allowed statewide. 24 can be standalone adult-use dispensaries, and the remaining 9 are hybrid licenses intended for existing medical dispensaries that wish to add recreational sales. 25 percent of the standalone licenses must go to social equity applicants, and another 25 percent are being reserved for worker-owned cooperatives. Governor McKee will be appointing a new Cannabis Control Commission, with its own advisory board, that will share regulatory responsibility with the existing Office of Cannabis Regulation.

Retail sales are not expected to begin until December 1st at the earliest, but preparations should be moving swiftly as support for the bill was widespread. As Senator Miller says, “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.”