Recreational Pot Sales Begin in Rhode Island

Licensed sales of adult-use cannabis began in Rhode Island on Thursday, only six months after Governor Dan McKee signed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older. Five stores began selling adult-use cannabis on December 1, with more licensed retailers expected to begin business operations in the coming weeks.

The five retailers who launched adult-use cannabis sales on Thursday were all already licensed to sell medical marijuana to patients registered with the state’s medicinal cannabis program. By the end of next month, two additional so-called hybrid retailers will add recreational marijuana sales to their existing medical cannabis operations. 

Last week, the governor marked the impending launch of adult-use cannabis sales as the December 1 launch date approached.

“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said in a November 22 statement from the governor’s office. “It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers. Finally, I thank the leadership of the General Assembly for passing this practical implementation framework in the Rhode Island Cannabis Act and I look forward to continuing our work together on this issue.”

Recreational Marijuana Legalized In May

Matt Santacroce, chief of the Rhode Island Office of Cannabis Regulation and interim deputy director of the Department of Business Regulation, noted the speed with which state regulators had authorized the launch of recreational marijuana sales after McKee signed legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis in May.

“We were pleased with the quality and comprehensiveness of the applications we received from the state’s compassion centers, and we are proud to launch adult use sales in Rhode Island just six months after the Cannabis Act was signed into law, marking the Northeast’s fastest implementation period,” said Santacroce. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s cannabis business community to ensure this critical economic sector scales in compliance with the rules and regulations put forward by state regulators.

State officials are not expecting a surge in cannabis use because medical marijuana has been legal since 2006 and recreational cannabis is available in neighboring states. 

“It’s a good opportunity for Rhode Islanders to buy safe, regulated cannabis products in the convenience of their own town or area of the state,” Santacroce told the Boston Globe. “If you are used to going to Massachusetts or wherever, you can save time and gas. We will generate state and local tax revenue that didn’t exist before. And we have the opportunity to capture value in our market, in our industry, in our supply chain. That’s a big deal.”

Under state law, adults are permitted to smoke cannabis wherever tobacco smoking is allowed, unless the use poses potential harm to children. The legislation passed in May also includes provisions to expunge prior cannabis possession offenses no longer illegal under current law.

Taxes On Recreational Weed Total 20%

Taxes on recreational sales include a 10% state cannabis excise tax in addition to the 7% state sales tax, plus an additional 3% local tax for the city or town in which the sale takes place. Taxes on recreational marijuana sales are expected to generate about $15 million in tax revenues in the first full fiscal year of sales. State officials project regulated marijuana sales to generate about $7.5 million in state excise tax revenue, $5.2 million in state sales tax revenue, and $2.2 million in local excise tax revenue.

Cannabis retailer Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket opened three hours earlier than its normal 8:00 a.m. opening time to get a jump on the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales, and the shop’s first recreational marijuana transaction was rung up at 5:18 a.m. The dispensary saw about 300 customers visit the dispensary by mid-morning, about 80% of whom were recreational buyers.

“We’ve had a very successful day,” Mother Earth Wellness co-owner Joe Pakuris told the Associated Press. “I think it has been a smooth transition and the state has done an excellent job of rolling out this program. Everything’s great.”

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Rhode Island Lawmakers Approve Weed Legalization Bill

The Rhode Island General Assembly approved legislation to legalize recreational pot on Tuesday, culminating years of work by lawmakers and activists to reform the state’s cannabis policy. Democratic Governor Dan McKee is expected to sign the legislation Wednesday afternoon, according to media reports, making Rhode Island the 19th state in the nation to legalize cannabis for use by adults.

After lawmakers passed the bill, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey thanked his colleagues for their work on the issue, which has resulted in a recreational pot legalization bill to be introduced in the General Assembly every year since 2011.

“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,” McCaffrey said, as quoted by the Providence Journal. “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.”

The legislation legalizes possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older. Possession by adults of up to 10 ounces is permitted in a private home, as is the cultivation of up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants.

The bill also includes provisions to expunge past convictions for cannabis possession offenses including civil violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. According to an analysis of the impact of the legislation by representatives of the state court system, as many as 27,000 cases where weed possession was the only charge are eligible for expungement. Court spokesman Craig Berke said last week that “thousands more” cases in which cannabis possession was one of multiple charges could also qualify for relief. The bill gives the state’s courts until July 1, 2024, to automatically expunge the records of all who are eligible.

Recreational Pot Sales Begin December 1

Commercial cannabis cultivation and commerce are also legalized by the legislation, with regulated sales of recreational weed slated to begin on December 1. An earlier version of the measure called for adult-use pot sales to begin on October 1. House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney said the final bill was the product of “months of intense negotiation and collaboration with numerous stakeholders.”

“This bill represents a solid foundation for the regulation of the cannabis industry within our state,” said Abney. “This is a good, strong, fair and equitable bill.”

The legalization bill faced some opposition in both the Senate and House of Representatives, including fears of impaired driving on the state’s roadways. Representative David Place offered an amendment to set cannabis taxes to mirror the state’s 7% tax rate, but the proposal was not approved.

“The primary benefit of legalization, to my mind, is the elimination of the black market and all the corresponding costs that go along with the black market,” Place said. “And we don’t do that with this bill.”

Opposition from representatives of Rhode Island businesses centered on fears that workers would be impaired on the job. Jared Moffat, states campaigns manager for the advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project, said that employers are protected by the legislation.

“Nothing in the legalization bill requires employees to tolerate marijuana use or impairment on the job or in the workplace,” Moffat said. “In other words, if you catch an employee using marijuana, employers don’t have to accommodate that behavior, and there are typically obvious signs that someone is impaired by marijuana.”

Additionally, employers whose employees perform work that is “hazardous, dangerous or essential to public welfare and safety” may prohibit workers from using cannabis within 24 hours of their shift. Moffat added that employees who use cannabis on personal time should not be discriminated against, similar to protections that prevent an employee from being “disciplined or fired because they enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail on the weekend.”

Cannabis possession will become legal as soon as McKee signs the legislation on Wednesday afternoon. Sales of recreational pot are expected to begin on December 1 at the state’s three existing medical cannabis dispensaries. The bill also authorizes up to six regional recreational cannabis retailers.

“Currently, only the three original licensed compassion centers are up and running, but the sponsors believe it’s possible that at least some of the six more that were recently approved will be open by Dec. 1, and that it is realistic to expect the hybrid licenses that will allow them to sell to recreational users will be approved by then,” reads a statement from the General Assembly.

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