Sponsors unveil amended bill for cannabis legalization
Changes include automatic expungement for legalized acts
STATE HOUSE – Previous convictions for cannabis possession will be automatically expunged under an amendment to legislation legalizing adult cannabis use in Rhode Island, its sponsors announced today.
The amendment to the legislation sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Scott A. Slater also pushes the start date of legalized adult recreational sales from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1 and eliminates the current fees charged to patients and caregivers for registration in the state’s medical marijuana program.
Based on committee testimony and debate since the bills were introduced March 1, the amendment is scheduled to be considered along with the rest of the revised bill tomorrow by committees in both the House and the Senate. Following approval by the House Finance Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, the amended bills are expected to come before the full membership of each chamber for a vote Tuesday, May 24.
“I’m proud that everyone involved — the advocates, the existing industry, patients, legislative leaders and the governor’s office — worked very cooperatively to smooth out the bumps and create a proposal that works for all the stakeholders. We all wanted to do this in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it. The amended bill is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance and recognizing that we cannot make this transition without taking action to make whole the communities and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
What the legislation (2022-S 2430, 2022-H 7593) legalizes for individuals will remain the same: the sale and possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis for those age 21 and up, with no more than 10 ounces for personal use kept in a primary residence. It would also allow Rhode Islanders to grow a small amount of their own cannabis at home.
Among the most notable changes addressed by the amendment is that it will provide for automatic expungement of any prior civil violation, misdemeanor or felony conviction for possession of cannabis that would be decriminalized by the bill, without requiring affected individuals to file a request, pay a fee or have a hearing. As originally proposed, the bill required individuals to request expungement, but after conversations with members of the judiciary, the sponsors are now confident that a system can be developed to allow for automatic expungement. The amendment sets a deadline of July 1, 2024, for the courts to provide automatic expungement to all who are eligible. It also provide an expedited process for those who wish to have their record expunged earlier.
For participants in the state’s existing medical marijuana program, the amendment eliminates the current fees imposed upon patients, authorized purchasers and primary caregivers for registry identification cards and plant tags, effective when adult recreational use begins on Dec. 1. The amendment also extends the date by which those with out-of-state medical marijuana cards must provide government-issued identification from the same jurisdiction. The original bill would have made that requirement effective upon enactment, but the amendment extends it until March 1, 2023.
There would be no changes to the proposed 10% state cannabis excise tax that will be in addition to the 7% sales tax, plus a 3% local tax for the municipality where the sale takes place.
In response to concerns raised about separation of powers, the amended bill makes some changes to the appointment process for members of the Cannabis Control Commission, the Cannabis Advisory Board and the administrative Cannabis Office, but their basic structure and functions remain as originally proposed. The revised bill smooths the transition to legal recreational use by allowing the Office of Cannabis Regulation to handle hybrid licensing to allow existing compassion centers and cultivators to serve the adult recreational market in addition to the medical market.
The amended bill makes no changes to the number of cannabis retailers allowed in Rhode Island: 33, distributed in six zones statewide, including the nine compassion centers that could become hybrid medical/recreational retailers.
The original bill allows municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana sales in their community by referendum, and the amendment clarifies that those currently hosting compassion centers will not have the option to opt out. Those hosting existing licensed cultivators or testing labs will be allowed to opt-out, although those facilities will be grandfathered in. The amended bill also adds a procedure for a community that opted out to revisit the issue in later years, and allows municipalities to ban cannabis use in public places by ordinance.
The sponsors emphasized that the amended bill does not change the measures they included in the original bill to address social equity to reduce barriers to participation for those communities that have long been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition. Their proposal uses licensing fees and penalties to fund technical assistance and grants to applicants and communities that have been impacted, and reserves one license in each of the six districts for a social equity licensee and another in each district for a co-op.
“Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process,” said Representative Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence). “Senator Miller and I represent some of the communities that have suffered disproportionate harm from prohibition for decades, resulting in generational poverty and mass incarceration. 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.”