The governor of Rhode Island announced on Tuesday that the state’s first adult-use marijuana retail sales will begin next week, on December 1.
Gov. Dan McKee (D) and the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR) said that five existing medical cannabis dispensaries have been licensed as “hybrid” retailers that will be the first to serve adults 21 and older.
“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said in a press release.
“It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers,” he said, adding that he’s grateful to lawmakers for passing a marijuana legalization bill that he signed in May.
Matt Santacroce, interim deputy director of DBR, said that the department was “pleased with the quality and comprehensiveness of the applications we received from the state’s compassion centers, and we are proud to launch adult use sales in Rhode Island just six months after the Cannabis Act was signed into law, marking the Northeast’s fastest implementation period.”
“We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s cannabis business community to ensure this critical economic sector scales in compliance with the rules and regulations put forward by state regulators,” he said.
The announcement comes two weeks after Rhode Island voters in more than 30 cities were asked to decide on whether or not to allow cannabis businesses to operate within their jurisdictions. Almost all of those cities opted in to marijuana commerce.
Rhode Island cities that didn’t place the question on the ballot will allow marijuana marketplaces in their area. Some of the state’s largest cities—including Cranston, Pawtucket, Providence and Warwick—declined to ask voters to decide on the matter, meaning retailers will be permitted by default.
The first five dispensaries to get hybrid licenses are:
- Aura of Rhode Island (Central Falls)
- Thomas C. Slater Center (Providence)
- Mother Earth Wellness (Pawtucket)
- Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center (Portsmouth)
- RISE Warwick (Warwick)
DBR started accepting applications for existing dispensaries to become hybrid retailers last month, but the overall licensing process has faced criticism over delays.
McKee has yet to appoint commissioners to oversee the regulation of the adult-use market. Legislative leaders have made recommendations to the governor for those appointments, but nobody has been formally selected yet.
Adding to the difficulty of getting the Cannabis Control Commission together, there have been calls for the governor to reject recommended appointees from House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) after one of his top aides was recently accused of failing to disclose that he was a “silent” partner in a marijuana business, while also reportedly having ties to an alleged mob figure. That staffer has since resigned.
Meanwhile, as regulators continue to work toward bringing retailers online, adults 21 and older are allowed to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants for personal use, only three of which can be mature, under the law signed by the governor.
There were months of negotiations between lawmakers, advocates, stakeholders and the governor’s office before a revised version of the legislation was introduced in May. But once the text was released, the identical companion bills in both chambers quickly advanced through committee and were quickly approved on the floor.
McKee, who released his own reform plan as part of his budget proposal this year, signed the measure just one day after the legislature sent it to his desk.
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The primary components of the now-enacted law are largely consistent with an earlier version of the bill as introduced and considered during earlier committee hearings in March.
Both the governor and legislative leaders’ legalization plans were notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget in 2020. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a pair of drug decriminalization bills in March—including one focused on psilocybin and buprenorphine that would authorize doctors to prescribe the psychedelic mushroom.
Last year, the governor also signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing last year on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.
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