Rhode Island State Senator Josh Miller, a co-sponsor of the Senate’s legalization bill.

The Ocean State could have legal adult use cannabis sales by the end of the year. Identical versions of an adult use legalization bill that would allow legal sales and automatically expunge cannabis arrest records in Rhode Island by December were sent out of House and Senate committees to their respective floors on Wednesday, April 18.

“So many people of color paid a very high price in the 80s and 90s over marijuana. Now at least, they can have expungement of those records,” said State Sen. Ana Quezada. “Seeing what I see in our community, I think it’s the right thing to do. I just hope this controls the black market and protects children from marijuana.”

The bills, S2430 and H7593 have identical language, and would create the state’s adult use cannabis market, and allow personal possession of up to 1 oz. of flower in public and 10 oz. in one home. The bill also permits each household to contain up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants.

The House and Senate voted, 12-2 and 9-1 respectively, to move forward amended versions of the bills that were originally submitted in March.

The new version of the bill will automatically expunge all civil and criminal cannabis convictions by July 1, 2024. Adult use sales can begin on Dec. 1 and it would eliminate fees for medical cannabis fees, including those for permits or plant tags.

The amended bill will eliminate fees associated with the medical cannabis program, such as the cost of new ID cards or the cost of individual tags to track any plants.

“We are relieved our voices were respected and heard in support of medical improvements,” said Ellen Lenox Smith of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. “The bill originally had nothing included for the medical community.”

State Sen. Josh Miller, co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said that the state’s three existing medical dispensaries, as well as the six that will soon come online, will be able to apply for a hybrid medical/retail license for a $125,000 fee. That cash, which Miller said he expects most of the dispensaries to pay, will go into a social equity fund.

“We’ll start with close to a million dollars,” said Miller.

Although most of the state’s municipalities will have the option of voting to opt out of allowing legal adult use sales, the cities and towns where medical dispensaries already exist, or will in a few months, are not able to opt out. Towns with cultivation or laboratories will be able to opt out, though existing sites will be grandfathered.

Governor Daniel McKee and leaders from the House and Senate have spent the year deliberating over a compromise bill that would legalize adult use cannabis, which was finally submitted to the legislature in March. Reportedly, a key sticking point in the negotiations was about which agency would have oversight of the new cannabis market, and the extent to which both the legislative and executive branches of state government would have oversight of that new agency.

The bill calls for the creation of a Cannabis Control Commission with three commissioners in charge. The governor would appoint all three members, although one of them would be selected from a list of three that the State House would submit to the governor. The Senate would then confirm all three picks.

Next Tuesday the House and Senate are both expected to vote on their respective bills, which then have to be consolidated into one before it goes to the governor’s desk.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...