Rhode Island Becomes 19th Legal State

Stephen Andrews
30 May 2022

The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill last week to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana. With this, Rhode Island joins the club of 18 other states across the nation that introduce a legal market. Legal sales are due to launch on December 1 this year. The new law also foresees to expunge past convictions until July 1, 2024, although requesting an expungement sooner is also possible.

Rhode Island was one of the states expected to end the prohibition of marijuana during this year. Now the moment is here. The state's General Assembly approved legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use on Tuesday (May 24), after which Governor Dan McKee signed it into law on Wednesday (May 25). 

The 19th state to introduce full legalization in the U.S., Rhode Island's legislation will allow adults aged 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis. Adults are also permitted to homegrow up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants, and they can possess up to 10 ounces of weed at their homes. 

Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey expressed gratitude to colleagues who advocated for the bill. The Rhode Island Cannabis Act, as the bill has been dubbed, has been introduced in the General Assembly every year since 2011. 

"This is 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 told local media. 

He added: "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." 

Regulated retail of cannabis products for recreational use is anticipated to launch on December 1. An earlier version of the draft aimed that the deadline is October 1. 

Sales will commence at the state's three existing medical cannabis dispensaries. In addition, up to six regional recreational cannabis retailers are also authorized under the bill, and at least some of those six may extend operations in Rhode Island by December. 

Moreover, up to 27,000 cannabis-related cases are expected to be deleted from Rhode Island's court system, with thousands more cases pending a review that could qualify for expungement. The bill sets July 1, 2024, as a deadline for state courts to automatically expunge records for everyone eligible. 

Proponents of the bill cited "the elimination of the black market and all the corresponding costs that go along with the black market" to defend the legalization bill in the exhaustive Senate and House discussions. On the other hand, opponents argumented with fears of impaired driving and employees under the influence at work. 

However, Jared Moffat from the advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project says that employers are actually protected by the legislation bill. 

"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," he said.

Moffat also referred to a specific provision of the bill that says employees who are performing tasks that are "hazardous, dangerous or essential to public welfare and safety" may be prohibited from using cannabis within 24 hours of their shift by their employer. 

The activist added that employees who use cannabis in their free time should not be discriminated against for their habit, and that they should be protected similarly to anyone who may simply have a glass of drink over the weekend. 

Stephen Andrews