Rhode Island voters in 25 cities approved local ballot referendums on Tuesday to allow adult-use marijuana businesses and sales in their jurisdictions.
The question was placed on the ballot in 33 cities, with a strong majority of those agreeing to permit cannabis commerce. This comes about six months after Gov. Dan McKee (D) signed a legalization bill into law.
The referendum asked: “Shall new cannabis-related licenses for businesses involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and for the retail sale of adult recreational use cannabis be issued in the city (or town)?”
Under the state’s marijuana law, municipalities were given the option to opt-out of allowing recreational cannabis businesses by putting the issue to voters during Tuesday’s election, which also saw Maryland and Missouri approve statewide legalization measures.
Here are the cities that approved the resolutions: Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Johnston, Lincoln, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, West Greenwich, West Warwick and Woonsocket.
The resolutions were rejected in Barrington, East Greenwich, Jamestown, Little Compton, Scituate and Smithfield, according to WPRI.
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.
That’s not a guarantee that all cities that where the resolution wasn’t put on the ballot will have retailers, however. The state has an initial 33 store cap, which will start with existing medical cannabis dispensaries opening as soon as December 1.
The state Department of Business Regulation (DBR) started accepting applications for those 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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