RI Senators introduce bill to legalize recreational marijuana

Soon Rhode islanders 21 and older may not have to drive to Massachusetts to buy their marijuana if a new bill to legalize the drug makes it through the General Assembly.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Soon Rhode islanders 21 and older may not have to drive to Massachusetts to buy their marijuana if a new bill to legalize the drug makes it through the General Assembly.

Rhode Island senators are introducing legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state at a tax rate of 20 percent.

The bill takes it cues from Massachusetts and how its tax system is structured, and it also establishes a cannabis commission to oversee regulation and licensing.

“I’m for it! It’s less harmful to you personally than alcohol or a lot of other things out there,” said Harry Smith of Woonsocket.

Senators Michael McCaffrey and Joshua Miller introduced the legislation Tuesday after working on the draft bill for the last several months.

The bill would legalize possession of less than one ounce of cannabis for Rhode Islanders of legal age.

It also structures how marijuana will be taxed, including the state’s seven percent sales tax, a three percent local sales tax, and a 10 percent special sales tax.

There is also a social justice component, including a process to expunge from someone’s record any past minor marijuana related offenses.

In addition it would use licensing and application fees to create a ‘Cannabis Equity Fund’ to financially assist applicants from lower income communities.

“Why not? It takes away the criminal element and it gives us tax money that we can use to make a better state,” said Smith.

The bill does not include a set number of stores in the state, though it does allow for a minimum of three in each community if that community hasn’t opted out of allowing the sales.

“We are providing that if a city or town allows this they can tax up to three percent of the gross sales price,” said Senator McCaffrey. “So there is an incentive to allow it but we did hear from some communities that they may not want to have it so we’re going to allow for an opt out provision.”

There will be four different types of licenses as part of the marijuana supply chain that people can apply for. A cultivator license fee will be $100 to $20,000, depending on size and type, a manufacturer license will cost $5,000, a retail license will cost $20,000, and a testing license will cost $5,000.

Senator Miller said they found in their research that up to 50 percent of revenue in the Massachusetts stores is coming from Rhode Islanders shopping there. Despite that, the manager at Northeast Alternatives in Fall River says they aren’t at all concerned about losing business.

“We are all about it,” said Manager Ramona Rogers. “We’re about legalization across the states. Like I had said before, we’re about better quality of life, and if it means that every state follows suit in what we’re doing, that’s the mission.”

Senator McCaffrey said that he does think that they would have the votes for this bill on the floor as of now, but emphasized that it is draft legislation that will go through the full committee process so they can work out any possible kinks.

Committee hearings will start in the coming weeks.

Categories: Massachusetts, News, Politics, Regional News, Rhode Island