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Rhode Island just legalized marijuana. Here’s what happens next

Rhode Island legislators passed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act on Tuesday, May 24. The Act legalizes the possession and sale of licensed cannabis for all adults. Gov. Dan McKee signed the Act into law at 3:15pm Eastern time on May 25.

Here’s what happens next.

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Yes. The Act “takes effect upon passage,” which means it’s legal for all adults 21 or older to possess cannabis in Rhode Island right now—but it’s not yet legal to sell it.

How much can I possess?

The legal limit is one ounce of flower on your person—or the equivalent in concentrates and other products. It’s unclear how “the equivalent” actually shakes out, so be cautious out there.

The Act also allows for the personal possession of up to 10 ounces of cannabis per person, per residence, as long as the cannabis is secured within that residence.

In other words: It’s legal to walk around with up to an ounce. It’s legal to keep up to 10 ounces at home. It’s not legal to walk around with 10 ounces.

December 1, 2022, at 12:01 a.m. Mark your calendars. It’s a Thursday.

When will cannabis stores open?

The Act allows the first adult-use retail stores to start selling on Dec. 1, 2022.

Where will the stores be located?

There will initially be three stores licensed to sell to all adults, if the stores so choose. The Act allows the three existing medical marijuana dispensaries (known as compassion centers in Rhode Island) to obtain adult-use licenses for a $125,000 fee.

The existing compassion centers are:

Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center

1 Corliss Street, Providence

Greenleaf Compassionate Care

1637 West Main Road, Portsmouth

Summit Medical Compassion Center

380 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick

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Will there be more stores?

Eventually, yes. The Act allows for a total of up to 33 cannabis retailers in the state, spread across 6 zones statewide.

Will previous cannabis convictions be expunged?

Yes. The Act’s automatic expungement clause mandates the erasure of tens of thousands of cannabis-related convictions, according to The Providence Journal.

With automatic expungement, all individuals previously convicted of cannabis-related civil crimes, misdemeanors, or felony convictions can expect to be cleared of all charges without petition, fee, or hearing.

The Act gives the state court system a two-year period to catch up with the new policy and carry out expungements, and includes the option for those affected to request an expedited hearing process.

Some larger offenses, including intent to deliver marijuana, would be ineligible for expungement.  

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How will cannabis be taxed?

With this new law, cannabis will now be taxed as a cash crop to produce additional revenue for Rhode Island. Consumers can expect to pay a 10% state cannabis excise tax, on top of a 7% sales tax and 3% local tax. That adds up to a total tax burden of 20%.

Who will regulate cannabis?

To oversee sales, cultivation, and manufacturing of medical and recreational cannabis, the Act creates an independent three-member Cannabis Control Commission, as well as a Cannabis Advisory Board, and an administrative Cannabis Office.

Though oversight will be handled by these bodies, participating municipalities will be responsible for issuing cannabis-related licenses for businesses that want to operate in their area.

How are medical patients protected?

In response to an outpouring of testimony from medical cannabis patients and providers, the final version of the Act takes pains to protect the state’s existing medical cannabis program and to make the transition into adult-use status as straightforward as possible.

Firstly, it allows for the existing medical compassion centers to become hybrid medical and recreational retailers on Dec. 1, and empowers the Office of Cannabis Regulation to handle hybrid licensing.

Also on Dec. 1, the Act gets rid of a variety of fees for medical patients and caregivers, including fees for cannabis identification cards and plant tags. It also gives recently relocated state residents with out-of-state medical cannabis cards until March 1, 2023, to obtain a Rhode Island medical card.

What social equity measures are in the Act?

Overall, the Rhode Island Cannabis Act resembles the legalization laws of other recent adult-use states, particularly in what it legalizes, rates of cannabis taxation, and the regulatory bodies it forms for oversight of the adult-use cannabis market.

Where Rhode Island’s bill goes above and beyond that of other adult-use states is in its emphasis on expungement, social equity licensing, and community reinvestment. These three areas are key to bringing tangible justice to people of color disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization.

The Rhode Island Cannabis Act touches on all three by providing for automatic expungement, reserving 25% of retail licenses for social equity candidates, and creating a social equity fund for those communities affected by previous state cannabis policies.

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Alexa Peters

Alexa Peters is a freelance writer who covers music, writing, travel, feminism, and self-help. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Paste, the Seattle Times, Seattle Magazine, and Amy Poehler's Smart Girls.

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