Governor Gina Raimondo (D) of Rhode Island has announced that she will formally propose to legalize recreational marijuana in her budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Raimondo said that such a measure is “inevitable” given that Rhode Island is surrounded by states that either have or are looking to legalize recreational marijuana.
“Things have changed, mainly because all of our neighbors are moving forward,” said Raimondo. “We’re not an island, in fact. Like it or not, we’re going to be incurring public safety and public health expenses because it’s legal in Massachusetts” and is likely to soon become legal in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “And I think it is time for us to put together our own regulatory and taxing framework.”
The governor wants to create “the strongest regulatory framework in the country” for marijuana. This includes a prohibition on personal cultivation of cannabis plants, unlike most other states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Raimondo also wants to ban high potency strains of marijuana products with more than 5 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), such as concentrates and edibles.
Raimondo’s proposal calls for $3.5 million to help launch the state’s recreational marijuana market and a sales tax of about 17 percent. Combined with taxes imposed on marijuana producers, state officials estimate $6.5 million in revenue for fiscal year 2020.
“We’re not doing this for the revenue,” Kevin Gallagher, Raimondo’s deputy chief of staff, told The Journal. “We’re going to be surrounded by [marijuana], and the only way we will be able to control the public health, to make sure we have safe products, control distribution, ensure proper enforcement, is if we take control of our own destiny and establish a framework here that has those significant protections.”
Whether the Governor’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana will be accepted by state officials and lawmakers remains to be seen.
Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D) exercised caution about the proposal while agreeing with Raimondo’s assessment on the implications of ongoing marijuana policy reform in neighbouring states.
“I appreciate the Governor’s viewpoints and I have expressed similar concerns about our neighboring states moving forward with legalization, leaving Rhode Island to bear the social costs without the benefit of the review,” said Mattiello. “However, I still have mixed feelings. My House colleagues have strong and differing viewpoints, and we will collectively assess the Governor’s proposal and come up with a consensus pathway forward.”
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha also agreed with the motivations behind the governor’s proposal.
A spokesperson for Neronha said, “Attorney General Neronha recognizes that as surrounding states legalize the recreational use of marijuana, it is increasingly difficult for Rhode Island to do otherwise.”
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said he will “continue to keep an open mind on legalization of recreational marijuana as the state looks into the regulatory and workforce challenges that come along with it.” He added, however, that he has “significant concerns, particularly with regard to workforce issues, enforcement around edibles, and impact on children.”
For years, bills to legalize recreational use have stalled in Rhode Island’s State House. According to the The Journal, if lawmakers approve Raimondo’s proposal, the first recreational marijuana retail stores could open by next January.