Rhode Island legislature votes to legalize marijuana, sets Dec. 2022 launch

Published on May 24, 2022
Rhode island legalization of cannabis. (Leafly)
Rhode island legislators passed the legalization bill by a wide margin. Now it's up to the governor to sign it into law. (Leafly)

In a historic vote, the Rhode Island legislature has approved a measure that would legalize and regulate the adult use of cannabis. The Rhode Island Cannabis Act now moves to the desk of Gov. Dan McKee, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

With McKee’s signature, Rhode Island would become the 19th state to legalize the adult use of marijuana.

Under the terms set by the bill, the first adult-use cannabis stores could open as soon as Dec. 1, 2022.

The vote wasn’t even close

After years of debate on the issue, today’s vote wasn’t even close. The state Senate passed the bill 32-6, and the House passed its version 55-16.

The House vote followed 90 minutes of debate, as the bill’s opponents expressed a variety of arguments against legalization. The Rhode Island Police Chief’s Association, as expected, insisted that cannabis was and remains a dangerous drug that should not be legalized.

Rep. Scott Slater, the main legalization advocate in the House, described the legislation as a “solid platform” to launch the sale and regulation of a recreational marijuana market, according to the Providence Journal. But the bill isn’t perfect, Slater added, and will need to be refined over the years, as in other legal states.

What’s allowed under the bill

Today’s passage puts a bill on the governor’s desk that would:

  • Allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis flower
  • Permit adults to grow up to 3 cannabis plants at home
  • Establish a retail cannabis excise tax of 10%, on top of the regular retail sales tax
  • Automatically clear past state and local cannabis convictions by July 2024
  • Allocate half of all new retail cannabis licenses for specific categories of applicants: 25% for social equity businesses, and 25% for worker-owned cooperatives
  • Create a social equity assistance fund to provide social services, job training programs, and grants to people and communities harmed by the War on Drugs

Look for a Dec. 1 opening day

Under the passed bill, the state’s three operating medical cannabis dispensaries would be the first stores to offer products to all adults starting on Dec. 1, 2022. More than 20 more stores are expected to open, eventually, but it could take months or even years for them to open.

Today’s vote came just hours after Delaware’s governor vetoed a similar marijuana legalization bill in Dover. That fight continues, as the legislature there may have enough votes to override the veto.

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Bruce Barcott and Calvin Stovall
Bruce Barcott and Calvin Stovall
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America. Calvin Stovall is Leafly's East Coast Editor. He writes and produces media in Atlanta, GA and runs day-to-day operations for The Artistic Unified Exchange, a nonprofit that protects intellectual property on behalf of independent artists and underserved communities.
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