Rhode Island’s Legalization

Governor Dan McKee signed Rhode Island’s legalization of cannabis into law on May 25, 2022. Although, the State has had medical cannabis since 2006. The new law allows residents over 21 years old to possess and consume cannabis recreationally. Accordingly, some medical regulations are updated, including how to administer medical cannabis to children. Rhode Island […]

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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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Rhode Island Lawmakers Vote To Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis

Legislative panels in the Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives voted to approve a bill to legalize cannabis for use by adults on Wednesday after an updated version of the measure was released by lawmakers the night before.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill with a vote of 9-1 while the House Finance Committee voted 12-2 in favor of the measure. The bill’s success in committee sets up a vote on the legislation by the full Senate and House, both of which have been scheduled for early next week.

State Senator Josh Miller, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, celebrated the completion of the amended version of the bill shortly before it was released on Tuesday night.

“For me this has been about a 10-year effort, so it’s nice to wrap it up,” Miller said in a statement quoted by local media.

The identical bills, Senate Bill 2430 from Miller and House Bill 7593 sponsored by Representative Scott A. Slater, would permit adults 21 and older to publically possess up to one ounce of cannabis. The bill also allows adults to possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis in a private location and to grow up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants at home.

The bill establishes a regulatory framework for legal commercial cannabis commerce, with sales of recreational pot slated to begin on December 1. An earlier version of the bill pegged the starting date for regulated adult-use cannabis sales at October 1.

The amended version of the bill also strengthens the measure’s social equity provisions. Under the new version, past civil and criminal convictions for low-level cannabis convictions will be expunged by the courts, which have been given a deadline of July 1, 2024 to complete the process. The previous version of the bill required those with convictions to petition the court to have their records cleared.

“Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process,” Slater said. “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.”

Restorative justice advocates had argued that requiring those with records for cannabis possession to petition the court for expungement made the process less accessible to people from underserved communities. Cherie Cruz of the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island applauded the change in a statement.

“The inclusion of state-initiated expungement in any framework of cannabis legalization is one of the most important concrete steps to work towards social justice, equity and repairing the harm of the failed War on Drugs to so many impacted Rhode Islanders,” said Cruz.

The new bill also includes changes for medicinal cannabis patients, including the elimination of fees for medical weed cards and plant identification tags. Adults who grow recreational cannabis would still be required to purchase plant tags.

“The amended bill is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance and recognizing that we can’t make this transition without taking action to make whole the communities and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition,” Miller said.

Rhode Island Amended Bill Addresses Governor’s Concerns

The new version of the legislation also addresses concerns raised by the administration of Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee, with officials arguing that the bill unconstitutionally gives lawmakers powers to appoint a three-member regulatory commission that are legally reserved for the governor. Common Cause Rhode Island, a nonprofit group advocating for good government, agreed that the provisions violated the constitutional separation of powers.

The amended bill removes power given to the Senate to approve the removal of commission members and for the Senate President to recommend appointments to the panel. But Common Cause executive director John Marion said the bill continues to violate the separation of powers doctrine.

“The Cannabis Control Commission is still constitutionally defective because the governor is asked to pick one of the three commissioners from a list given to him by the Speaker of the House,” Marion said. “The Senate asserted that the original bill passed constitutional muster, but the fact that they changed several provisions in response to previous criticism is an admission that their argument didn’t rest on firm ground.”

In a statement released by McKee’s office Tuesday night, the governor thanked lawmakers for addressing his concerns about the commission.

“While this bill is different than the governor’s original proposal – it does accomplish his priorities of making sure legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” spokesperson Matt Sheaff said in an email. “We look forward to reviewing the final bill that comes out of the General Assembly and signing legalization of adult-use cannabis into law.”

Other parts of the bill remained unchanged. Cannabis would be taxed a total of 20%, including a 10% cannabis excise tax, 7% sales tax, and a tax of 3% that would go to local governments hosting licensed cannabis businesses. Local jurisdictions could opt out of allowing retail cannabis businesses by placing a ballot question on the ballot for the November general election, but communities that vote not to allow dispensaries will not be eligible for revenue generated by cannabis taxes. Cities and towns that already have medical cannabis dispensaries would not be able to opt out of hosting retailers.

Both the House and Senate have scheduled a vote on the legislation for Tuesday. After the bill was approved in committee, the governor said that he intends to approve the bill.

“I’ll be willing to sign the piece of legislation if it gets to my desk the way I understand it’s going to be delivered,” McKee said on Wednesday.

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Rhode Island Lawmakers to Vote on Cannabis Legalization

Lawmakers in Rhode Island are expected to vote on cannabis policy reform this week, with legislative committees in the state Senate and House of Representatives scheduled to consider identical bills to legalize recreational pot for adults. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Senate Bill 2430 sponsored by Democratic Senator Joshua Miller on Wednesday afternoon, according to a report in local media. And later the same day, the House Finance Committee will vote on House Bill 7593 from fellow Democrat Representative Scott A. Slater. If passed, the companion bills would legalize the possession and purchase of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults 21 and older and create a regulatory framework for the commercial production and sale of recreational cannabis.

“This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities,” Miller said when the legislation was unveiled earlier this year. “To help address those past wrongs, and to ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to share the economic benefits associated with legalizations, equity is a central focus of this legislation.”

“The time for Rhode Island to move forward with cannabis legalization is now,” Miller, a longtime supporter of cannabis legalization, said in a statement when the legislation was unveiled earlier this year. “This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities.”

In addition to permitting public possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, the bills allow adults to possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis in a private location. The legislation also permits adults to grow up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants at home.

The legislation authorizes up to 33 cannabis retailers, including nine hybrid dispensaries that would carry both medical and recreational cannabis. Cannabis would be taxed a total of 20%, including a 10% cannabis excise tax, 7% sales tax, and a tax of 3% that would go to local governments hosting licensed cannabis businesses. Local jurisdictions could opt out of allowing retail cannabis businesses by placing a ballot question on the ballot for this year’s general election, but communities that vote not to allow dispensaries will not be eligible for revenue generated by cannabis taxes.

The bills would create a three-member cannabis control commission to oversee Rhode Island’s regulated cannabis industry. Once the new agency is formed, it would also take on oversight of the state’s medical canabis industry. The legislation also establishes a cannabis regulatory office and a cannabis advisory board within the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation.

Governor’s Office Objects to Bill’s Details

Although legalizing cannabis for adult use is supported by Democratic Governor Daniel McKee, his administration has expressed “significant constitutional concerns” about how the three members of the cannabis control commission would be appointed and, if necessary, removed from the panel. The most recent version of the legislation, which has the support of leadership in both the House and Senate, would give lawmakers a say in the commission’s appointments. But Claire Richards, the governor’s executive counsel, wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that such appointments are usually made by the governor.

“Such pervasive control by the legislature impermissibly enlarges its constitutional role at the expense of the executive,” Richards wrote in the letter quoted by the Providence Journal.

Under the Rhode Island Constitution, Richards noted, only the governor has the authority to appoint “all members of any commission” that exercise executive functions such as approving rules for cannabis retailers, issuing licenses to dispensaries and inspecting retail businesses.

But the most recent version of the legislation allows the governor to appoint members to the commission only from a list of candidates recommended by the Senate President and the House of Representatives. Additionally, the bills allow the governor to remove someone from the commission only with the approval of the Senate.

After Richards made the administration’s concerns known, spokesmen for the House and Senate disputed the contention that the legislation is unconstitutional.

“This bill, and specifically the appointment process, is consistent with Rhode Island’s separation-of-powers principles and the law flowing from the Rhode Island Supreme Court,” the spokesmen wrote in a joint statement.

They added that the appointment process “is similar to the process used in the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and the Judicial Nominating Commission.”

Social Equity Built into Legislation

Miller noted when the bill was introduced in March that “equity is a central focus of this legislation.” The measure includes provisions to use licensing fees and penalties to fund grants and technical assistance to applicants from underserved communities and those harmed by the War on Drugs. The legislation also reserves one license in each of six retail districts for social equity applicants, and another in each district for a co-op form of retail dispensary.

“It is the right public policy for Rhode Island to make cannabis possession and sales legal. We have been studying legalization proposals here for many years, and we now can look to our neighboring states’ experiences and see that taxing and regulating cannabis makes sense,” Slater said in March. 

“I’m especially proud that we have made a very deliberate effort to address social equity through this bill,” he added. “We have to recognize the harm that prohibition has done to communities, particularly minorities and poor, urban neighborhoods and ensure that those communities get the support they need to benefit from legalization.”

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Police Link Rash of New England Cannabis Facility Burglaries

Police have linked a rash of burglaries targeting New England cannabis dispensaries to a trio of suspects in Massachusetts, according to a report from the Portland Press Herald. Law enforcement officers say that a man from New Bedford, Massachusetts and two brothers from Boston are suspected in the string of burglaries of licensed cannabis enterprises going back to 2020.

Police began connecting the crimes after a burglary at a cannabis grower in Gorham, Maine in October of last year. In that caper, three individuals wearing face coverings, hats and long sleeves cut their way through an exterior wall of the business located in an industrial park while a fourth person stood watch outside. The three burglars inside the building moved cautiously from room to room, trying to avoid detection by motion sensors. When the team finally left a couple of hours later, they took 30 pounds of cannabis and 500 THC vape cartridges with them.

During their investigation, police reviewed video from the cannabis cultivator’s security cameras. One camera caught the image of the Massachusetts license plate of a pickup truck that entered the parking lot two hours before the crime. And inside the building, one of the camera’s microphones recorded the burglars talking to one another.

“Where the (expletive) is Dario?” one burglar clearly said to another.

“He’s putting the trunks in the truck, ” the accomplice replied.

Investigation Yields Three Suspects

The license plate led law enforcement officers to Dario Almeida, a 21-year-old man with an address in New Bedford, Massachusetts. When Gorham police Detective Stephen Hinkley called New Bedford police, they gave him a cellphone number for Almeida, who had had a recent contact with the department.

A week later, police in New Bedford contacted Hinkley via email to inform him that Almeida and his brother Rafael were suspects in a similar burglary of a cannabis cultivator in Warwick, Rhode Island, where the same pickup truck was also caught on video. Police believe that the brothers are from South Boston and a third suspect is from New Bedford, according to Mass Live.

After reaching out to other New England law enforcement agencies, Hinkley learned of seven similar burglaries that had occurred in Maine since June of last year. Another Gorham cannabis business was also burglarized by criminals who cut through an exterior wall on Thanksgiving night in 2020. Burglars also targeted a cannabis business in South Portland, Maine. In January, a Portland, Maine judge issued a search warrant for evidence including location data from one of the suspect’s cell phones for the times that two of the burglaries occurred. No arrests have yet been made, and the case is still being investigated.

Police in South Portland and Warwick did not reply to reporters’ questions about the burglaries. Gorham Police Chief Christopher Sanborn also declined to comment on the rash of burglaries.

“This is an open investigation that we are currently working on,” Sanborn said. “I’m sorry, but I cannot comment any further at this time.”

Maine’s cannabis regulatory agency, the Office of Marijuana Policy, requires licensed cannabis businesses to report burglaries, robberies and other crimes. But David Heidrich, a spokesperson for the agency, said that many businesses are not familiar with the procedure to submit such reports. The reports the regulator has received are confidential and an analysis of the information they contain has not been conducted by the agency.

“We are not a law enforcement entity, and our role in regulating cannabis is to ensure licensee and registrant compliance with Maine’s adult and medical use of marijuana laws,” Heidrich wrote in response to a request for information on crime reports at cannabis businesses. “Thefts and burglaries are crimes, and the best source for information about criminal activity is and has always been law enforcement.”

An executive at Tetrapoint LLC, a South Portland-based cannabis security firm that transports pot and cash for cannabis businesses, told the Portland Press Herald that many companies are lulled by Maine’s reputation as a low-crime state into being complacent about security. But he said that the threat to cannabis businesses still exists.

“The tendency is to say, the bank’s only a half-hour away, why would we pay people to drive there?” said the executive, who requested anonymity to prevent being targeted for robbery while he’s on the job. “We have clients who are next door to a bank, and they still utilize our services.”

The executive also noted that despite pot’s continued illegality at the federal level, many local police departments are treating cannabis businesses just like other crime victims.

“In several different communities, we’ve found that local law enforcement are very friendly because it’s driving new business,” the security executive said.  “Some folks may not be particularly happy about the industry, but it’s here, it’s now and it’s happening.”

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Rhode Island Lawmakers Introduce Cannabis Legalization Bill

Rhode Island lawmakers unveiled legislation to legalize cannabis for adults on Tuesday with the introduction of identical bills in the state Senate and House of Representatives. The measure introduced by state Senator Josh Miller and Representative Scott Slater would legalize possession and purchase of up to one ounce of cannabis, and establish a framework for regulated cannabis sales.

Senator Joshua Miller, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee chair and a longtime advocate of legalization, said on Tuesday that cannabis policy reform would be a boon for the state.

“The time for Rhode Island to move forward with cannabis legalization is now,” Miller said in a statement. “This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities.”

In addition to permitting possession of up to one ounce of cannabis in public, the legislation allows adults to possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis in a private location. The bill also permits adults to grow up to three immature and three mature plants at home.

The legislation would create a three-member cannabis control commission to oversee the state’s regulated cannabis industry. Once it is established, the new agency would also take on oversight of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana industry. The legislation also establishes a cannabis regulatory office and a cannabis advisory board within the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation.

The bill allows for up to 33 cannabis retailers, including nine hybrid dispensaries that would carry both medical and recreational cannabis. Weed would be taxed a total of 20 percent, including a 10 percent cannabis excise tax, 7 percent sales tax, and a local tax of 3 percent that would go to local governments hosting licensed cannabis businesses. Jurisdictions could opt out of allowing retail cannabis businesses by placing a ballot question on the November ballot, but communities that vote to deny dispensaries will not be eligible for cannabis tax revenue.

Social Equity Provision Included in Bill

Miller noted that “equity is a central focus of this legislation.” The bill includes provisions to use licensing fees and penalties to fund grants and technical assistance to applicants from underserved communities and those harmed by the War on Drugs. The legislation also reserves one license in each of six retail districts for social equity applicants, and another in each district for a co-op form of retail store.

“It is the right public policy for Rhode Island to make cannabis possession and sales legal. We have been studying legalization proposals here for many years, and we now can look to our neighboring states’ experiences and see that taxing and regulating cannabis makes sense,” said Slater. 

“I’m especially proud that we have made a very deliberate effort to address social equity through this bill. We have to recognize the harm that prohibition has done to communities, particularly minorities and poor, urban neighborhoods and ensure that those communities get the support they need to benefit from legalization.”

Cannabis reform advocacy groups including the Formerly Incarcerated Union of RI, the Working Families Party, Reclaim RI, and the Marijuana Policy Project praised the social equity provisions of the bill, saying that worker-owned co-ops will give economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs a path to ownership in the legal cannabis industry. But they also called for restorative justice measures including automatic expungement of past marijuana convictions to be added to the legislation.

“The criminalization of cannabis has done harm to so many families in our state, and we are grateful to see the legislature moving forward with a more sensible policy of legalization,” said Cherie Cruz, co-founder of the Formerly Incarcerated Union of R.I. “However, there is no excuse to deny automatic relief from past arrest records and criminal convictions to tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who have been victims of this failed war on cannabis.”

More Work to Do

After thanking Slater for his “tireless” effort on the legislation, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi acknowledged that work still remains on the path to cannabis legalization.

“I want to emphasize that the bill introduced today is not the final product—rather, it is the beginning of the public process of legalizing cannabis for recreational use in Rhode Island,” Shekarchi said. “We welcome input from the public as to whether or how we should implement recreational usage, and I expect robust discussions with House membership as well.”

Rhode Island and New Hampshire are the only two New England states that have yet to pass legislation to legalize recreational weed. In January, Gov. Dan McKee included a plan to legalize cannabis in his annual budget proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey said that lawmakers have “been working hard since the end of last session to establish consensus on the details, but our efforts to address the issue have been going on for many years, during which time our neighboring states have already made this move ahead of us. Rhode Island is now behind them from a competitive standpoint, since it’s fairly easy for most Rhode Islanders to cross the state line to make a legal purchase.” 

“The truth is, legal cannabis is already widely available to Rhode Islanders, but the resulting revenue is not. With this bill, we will create jobs, revenue and control in our own state, and help address some of the inequities that have resulted from prohibition,” McCaffrey continued. “I look forward to working with my colleagues, stakeholders, and the public to ensure that we take the careful, nuanced, and equitable approach we need to transform this economic sector.”

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Rhode Island Budget Proposal Seeks Recreational Cannabis Legalization

The 2023 budget was recently proposed by the governor of Rhode Island, which aims to establish a legislative framework for recreational cannabis legalization.

Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee presented his Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Proposal on January 20, and includes recreational cannabis legalization. “Today, we know there are still many pandemic-related challenges that we must once again come together to address—with our top priority being the health and safety of Rhode Islanders. At the same time, we have an historic opportunity to write Rhode Island’s next chapter now, with $1.13 billion in federal funds and an over $600 million surplus available to invest in our state’s future,” McKee wrote in the introduction of his proposal. “The decisions we make this year have the potential to bolster Rhode Island’s economic comeback and propel our state into the next decade with strength.”

In a press media presentation he briefly covers multiple topics included in his budget proposal. Under “other items,” includes the mention of adult-use cannabis “Allows for controlled, phased-in introduction of retail licenses, results in minimal net revenue in FY 2023.” A more detailed executive summary goes into detail of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Proposal in nearly 200 pages of plans, with cannabis being mentioned in a few key sections.

“The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state,” the executive summary states. “This proposal would create a weight-based excise tax on marijuana cultivation, an additional retail excise tax of 10 percent, and also apply sales tax to cannabis transactions.” The summary states that 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue and fees collected from licensing would be given to public health and safety programs. An additional 15 percent would be granted to local governments and the remaining 60 percent would go straight to the state general fund (a combination of cannabis cultivation excise taxes and retail sales excise tax, in addition to the state’s seven percent sales tax). The summary also states that after a full year of sales by fiscal year 2024, the state projects that it will collect up to $16.9 million in general revenue.

The legislation proposal for legalization echoes similar states’ analysis of combating illegal cannabis sales. “Prohibiting the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis to adults has proven to be an ineffective policy for the State of Rhode Island,” it reads. “In the absence of a legal, tightly regulated market, an illicit cannabis industry has thrived, undermining the public health, safety and welfare of Rhode Islanders.”

Legal cannabis would allow adults to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, or store up to five ounces at home. The proposed bill is set to begin starting April 1, 2023. In its current form, the proposal doesn’t allow home cultivation, and imposes consequences for those who might illegally cultivate plants at home. In terms of licenses, it requires that 25 retailers should be licensed per year between 2023 and 2025, through a lottery system. Five of those 25 licenses must be granted to a minority-owned business.

In the past, there have been differing opinions between McKee and House and Senate representatives about how to approach legalization in the state. For instance, while McKee’s most recent proposal directs responsibility of maintaining a state cannabis program to the Department of Business Regulation, other representatives have previously believed that a new department be created for the task.

In the beginning of the 2022 legislative session on January 4, Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi mentioned that the Rhode Island congress is actively working on crafting a recreational cannabis program. “… We have also spent months analyzing the complex issue of marijuana legalization. The House and Senate intend to soon have draft legislation ready which will serve as a framework to begin a robust public hearing process. We may not be the first state to legalize marijuana, but our goal is to do it in the way that is best for all Rhode Islanders.”

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Worker Illegally Fired from Cannabis Company for Union Involvement Wins Job Back

On December 29, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 328—representing roughly 11,000 Rhode Island and Massachusetts frontline workers—announced a victory for Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center employees in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, preserving their right to openly discuss unions and other workers’ rights.

Like most other industries, workers in medical cannabis operations and dispensaries want employee protections and fair pay. AGreenleaf Compassionate Care Center employee and worker committee member was terminated last June once he was exposed negotiating the first union contract for employees.

After “months of investigations” conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), UFCW Local 328 filed charges against Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center for violating workers’ rights, culminating in the termination of employee and bargaining committee member Ben Telford. 

Other charges include the elimination of employee discounts during a six-week period, the elimination of the Friday lunch program and transfer of bargaining unit work to a new classification. The list of charges continues—including “interrogation, surveillance and disparagement of employees” for their union activity. 

The employees at Greenleaf held a one-day strike planned in a June 26 press release, to protest the illegal firing of Telford, who was illegally terminated for his union activity. UpriseRI arrived on-scene at the protest in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in support of Telford. UpriseRI insisted that CEO Seth Bock reinstate Telford.

After an investigation, the NLRB issued complaints on each of these charges against Greenleaf. Just a day before the trial was set to take place, Greenleaf offered to settle on every complaint.

“Securing justice for Ben was significant because it not only holds the company accountable for breaking the law, but it also sends a message to workers everywhere that they have rights on the job to organize,” UFCW Local 328 Director of Organizing Sam Marvin told High Times. “At UFCW, we are proud to stand with workers to build a better and more secured future and are committed to holding employers accountable when there are injustices at work.”

Rhode Island Greenleaf Cannabis Workers shared the same sentiment. “We are pleased with the results of the investigations from the National Labor Relations Board and the signed commitments we secured in this settlement agreement,” Rhode Island Greenleaf Cannabis Workers said in a joint statement. “We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to the NLRB for their hard work during the investigation of numerous labor complaints that were filed against our employer. While we should not have had to experience these unfair labor practices to begin with, it was extremely reassuring to know that we as workers had a formal means of recourse when our employer committed these infractions. While forming a union can be a challenging and arduous process, we know that it is one of the few options we have as workers to create a more stable and predictable future.” 

Rhode Island Greenleaf Cannabis Workers encourage employees in other states to take note.

“We encourage workers to continue to organize with each other both within individual companies and across the industry,” the joint statement continues. “We want to thank UFCW Local 328 for all of its continued support and the resources we’ve been given through this process. We look forward to continuing to build a healthier and secured future for all of us at Greenleaf by completing our first union contract in the near future.”

UFCW Local 328 announced that the new settlement with Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center and its unionized cannabis workers includes the following key items:

  • Back pay for employees during a six-week period the company did not extend their employee discount to eligible union voters 
  • Back pay for employees affected by the company’s elimination of the Friday lunch program for the past 25 weeks 
  • The immediate reinstatement of the Friday lunch program 
  • The offer of reinstatement to employee Ben Telford, who was illegally fired by the company in June 2021, with compensation of full back pay for wages, interest and additional compensation 
  • The immediate restoration and protection of union bargaining unit work for key stakeholders 
  • A signed commitment by the company to not interfere with employees’ rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, to not disparage, surveil, discipline or discharge workers for their union activity, to not create new positions to avoid collective-bargaining obligations, to not transfer work to managers or other employees because of their union activity, and a commitment to bargain in good faith with UFCW Local 328

Per the NLRB settlement agreement, Greenleaf has offered Telford reinstatement to his position and will compensate him with full back pay for all lost wages, interest and additional compensation. 

“We are proud of the workers at Greenleaf for standing together to achieve this victory,” Marvin stated. “It is critical that employers are held accountable when they break the law and violate workers’ rights. This settlement represents a significant achievement for Greenleaf workers in their pursuit for justice and fairness at their workplace, and we look forward to continuing to work together to build the futures they all have earned.”

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Rhode Island Legalization Bill Set for Early 2022 Introduction

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.” 

Courtesy of wpri.com

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.

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Rhode Island to Release New Medical Cannabis Dispensary Licenses

After a series of delays and legal obstacles, the state of Rhode Island finally appears ready to dole out new licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries.

The state’s Department of Business Regulation announced last week that it will commence a lottery this Friday for five new dispensary licenses. 

In what local television station WPRI described as a “highly choreographed” event, the lottery will take place at the Rhode Island Department of Administration in the capital city of Providence, with limited general seating available to the general public. The lottery will also be livestreamed via Zoom.

The licenses will be awarded to dispensaries from five different geographic zones. WPRI has more details on the event: “A total of 37 applications from 23 companies will be in play for the five coveted licenses. The lottery balls have already been inspected and weighed by experts at the University of Rhode Island and sealed in a briefcase sealed with bomb squad tape since April 30, according to the state’s director of cannabis regulation, Matt Santacroce, who showed the briefcase to reporters Friday morning. A second, practice set of balls was used to demonstrate the procedure.”

The announcement comes on the heels of delays to the lottery process. The lottery was originally scheduled to be held in the first week of August, but that was postponed due to an appeal lodged by an applicant who had been rejected.

Matthew Santacroce, chief of the Office of Cannabis Regulation within the Department of Business Regulation, told the Providence Journal at the time that the lottery would not be conducted “until that appeal has run its course.” 

That still has not been resolved, however. WPRI reported that “an appeal hearing date has still not been set,” and that Santacroce “declined to comment on the ongoing appeal procedure.”

The appeal is being levied by a company called Atlas Enterprises Inc., which “had applied to open a dispensary in Newport, where such businesses are banned by local ordinance,” according to WPRI.

Rhode Island legalized medical cannabis in 2006, when the state legislature passed the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act. Lawmakers in the state overrode the veto of then-Republican Governor Don Carcieri to get the law over the line. 

Patients in Rhode Island can acquire a prescription if they have one of several qualifying conditions, via the state’s Department of Health: Cancer or the treatment of this condition; Glaucoma or the treatment of this condition; Positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or the treatment of this condition; Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or the treatment of this condition; and Hepatitis C or the treatment of this condition.

But 25 years after that law passed, the Providence Journal noted that the state still has only three medical marijuana dispensaries.

It may not be long for adults in the Ocean State to legally acquire some weed. In June, the Rhode Island state Senate passed a bill legalizing recreational pot use. The bill was pushed by Democratic lawmakers, including state Senate Majority Leader Joshua Miller.

“It is a historic day, as it is the first time a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis has reached the floor of either legislative chamber in Rhode Island,” Miller said after the bill’s passage. “It is important that we act expeditiously to enact a regulatory framework.”

Lawmakers have continued to iron out the terms of the legislation in the months since, and last week, WPRI reported that legislative leaders “are inching closer to a agreement on legalizing recreational marijuana, but have still not settled on what sort of governing body will oversee, regulate and issue retail licenses in the potentially lucrative market for legal cannabis.”

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