Rhode Island Adult-Use Legislation

Stephen Andrews
26 Jan 2022

Rhode Island is among the U.S. states actively pursuing the legalization of cannabis for adult use. State legislators have been debating and negotiating for months to reconcile competing legalization proposals that have been brought forward by the House, Senate, and governor's office. Most recently, the governor of Rhode Island has pushed forward a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of the state's annual budget plan. The governor's proposal is a build-up on a previously flawed version. The new version has been expanded with keywording on automatic expungement for cannabis offenses.

Gov. Dan McKee's request for the 2023 fiscal year went public on Thursday (Jan 20), calling for the recreational legalization of cannabis. The legalization of cannabis in the Ocean State has been subject to intense negotiation between state legislators. Negotiations have helped solve a number of issues, however, for some of the questions, legislators have hit a wall. Such as, who will be in charge of regulating the cannabis program! Will it be an existing agency already set up in the state, or should a new body be created? 

Who will regulate the program has been the focal point of disagreement between the governor and legislators. 

In general, McKee plans to permit adults aged 21 and above to buy and possess up to an ounce of cannabis, however, the governor is not willing to allow the option for homegrowing. The law would permit storing up to five ounces of weed in secured storage at the person's primary place of residence. 

"The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state," an executive summary reads. 

"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 says. 

Under the governor's plan, 25% of marijuana tax and licenses fees would be allocated for the "regulatory, public health, and public safety costs associated with adult-use cannabis." Most of the tax and license money, or 60%, will go to the state general fund, and 15% of revenue will flow to the accounts of local governments. 

The executive summary says the state's tax revenue would be "boosted by the proposed introduction of adult-use cannabis tax revenue in FY 2023."

According to some estimates, Rhode Island would amass $1.2 million in general revenue for the year 2023. On the other hand, funding a process for expedited expungements will additionally cost the Ocean Stae about $400,00 for 2023, the summary says. 

Rhode Island laws have historically been tough on cannabis, however, the proposed legislature clears the slate by saying, "prohibiting the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis to adults has proven to be an ineffective policy for the State of Rhode Island."

It goes on: "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."

The Ocean State is sandwiched with neighbors who already regulate the legal retail of cannabis goods for recreational use. Legal sales of marijuana in Massachusetts tops over $2.3 billion following legalization in 2018. The state collected more than $800 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The second neighbor, Connecticut, is expected to generate $3.1 million in state and local cannabis taxes for 2022; by 2026, this figure is projected to surpass $70 million. These numbers certainly are a big stimulus for Rhode Island and its legislators to hurry up, resolve pending issues and bring forward legalization of all cannabis goods. 

Stephen Andrews