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RI POLITICS

5 things to know about Rhode Island’s latest cannabis bill

In his bill Rep. Scott Slater, a Providence Democrat, is also calling for the expungement of past marijuana-related convictions.

Marijuana ready to be packaged at an indoor facility.
Marijuana ready to be packaged at an indoor facility.MOHAMED SADEK/NYT

PROVIDENCE — With less than six weeks left in Rhode Island’s legislative session, a Providence lawmaker has introduced another option to consider to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Cannabis advocates have long wanted lawmakers to take action on marijuana legislation for adults, and there have been plenty of debates and hearings over the years. Rep. Scott Slater, the bill’s sponsor, has seemingly aligned with progressives on the issue, and part of the bill would help communities of color that were disproportionately incarcerated throughout the war on drugs.

Here’s what you should know about Slater’s new bill.

How will this bill help Rhode Islanders who have been convicted for marijuana offenses?

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Slater’s new bill, which was introduced to the House on Thursday night, calls for the automatic expungement of past marijuana-related convictions, including prior felonies. And all outstanding court-related or court-imposed fees, fines, costs, assessments, charges, and any other monetary obligations for cases eligible for automatic expungement will be waived.

How could this bill help disadvantaged communities?

Within the state’s general fund, Slater has proposed a separate fund known as the “social equity assistance fund,” which would consist of the funds from application and licensing fees. The fund will be used to implement and administer programs related to restorative justice, jail diversion, drug rehabilitation, education, and workforce development related to growing marijuana, distribution, sales, transportation, and mentoring services for economically-disadvantaged persons in communities that were disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest for marijuana. The bill also said it would provide financial assistance to those economically disadvantaged in order to enter into the lawful marijuana business.

The social equity assistance fund could also include provisions for interest-free loans in order to pay for the application and eventual annual licensing fee for individuals who were previously convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses, family members of people who were convicted of non-violent marijuana-related offenses, and for people who live in disproportionately impacted areas for a least five of the last 10 years.

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What control would Rhode Island’s municipalities have over local dispensaries?

Slater’s bill exclusively says that every municipality has the right to prohibit marijuana businesses. It also allows municipalities to impose “reasonable safeguards” on dispensaries, as long as they are “not unreasonable and impracticable.” Cities and towns will be able to dictate the time, place, and manner of the business operations.

The state department of business regulations is the sole licensing authority for marijuana establishment licensees.

What are the taxes and fees related to marijuana in this new bill?

Recreational marijuana products will be taxed at 22 percent in Rhode Island if this bill becomes law.

Municipalities can also collect “impact fees” related to the costs imposed on the city or town because of the business, which could include increased traffic or police details, or increased parking needs and pedestrian foot traffic. However, those fees cannot exceed two percent of the business’s gross annual sales and the city or town will have to demonstrate and calculate those “impact fees.” Licensed dispensaries and applicants will not be allowed to pay or offer to pay impact fees that are more than the actual cost.

If this bill passes, how many dispensaries can open and who can purchase marijuana?

If Slater’s bill becomes law, then the state department of business regulations, and director Elizabeth Tanner, will have to open an application period and must accept six recreational dispensaries. Five of those licenses must be awarded to qualifying social equity applicants and at least one must be organized as a worker-owned cooperative.

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Those 21 years old and older will be able to purchase marijuana for recreational use. Those who are 21 and older will be able to posses one ounce at a time, but of that, only five grams can be marijuana concentrate. Within that person’s residence, however, they can possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.