Rhode Island Leaders Discuss Potential 2021 Legalization of Marijuana


The legislative leaders and Governor of Rhode Island are expressing interest in making cannabis legal in 2021. They are wondering whether to legalize it as a state-run model or through private retailers. If they opt for the former, it will be the first program of its kind in the country. The state has been considering the issue of legalization for several years. One obstacle they will have to overcome is the stoner stereotype of marijuana users.

People in the smallest state in the United States are waiting for leaders to work out the details. Michael McCaffrey, the Majority leader, said that he favors a model of private providers. The Governor, however, prefers a state-run plan. Nevertheless, their backing for legalization marks a big shift from just a few months ago.


State-Run Model Versus Private Retailers

According to Senator Ryan Pearson, lawmakers in the state will formally discuss the legalization issue as early as January 2021. Dominic Ruggerio, the Senate President, already instructed the majority leader to draft a legalization bill. The proposal to legalize recreational cannabis in the state aims to keep marijuana under state control. According to Governor Gina Raimondo, the state-run marijuana shops will be similar to the New Hampshire liquor outlets. The proposal also suggests a ban on the home-growing of medical marijuana in Rhode Island, except by those authorized under the MMJ program.

Some members of the committee are doubtful about the Governor’s model. They prefer allowing private businesses to grow and/or sell the drug. However, the committee is not debating if to advance legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Rather, it is trying to figure out how to go about it in 2021.


Revenue Sharing

The Governor’s proposal would create a revenue-sharing model similar to that of the casinos in the state. Essentially, Rhode Island will keep 61 percent of the net revenues from the sale of marijuana, leaving 29 percent to one or more store contractors. Municipalities will get 10 percent of the revenues. According to the proposal, even towns and cities that ban the drug will share the revenues, but not as much as those that host stores.

This unique model of legalizing marijuana would give the state a firm grip on the recreational marijuana industry. The goal is to starve the black market and bring more revenue to the state. Medical marijuana in Rhode Island operates under a model where private providers use licensed stores. As such, the state earns revenue through fees and taxes.


Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Medical marijuana has been legal in Rhode Island since 2006. The state has three medical marijuana dispensaries known as compassion centers. Six more are set to get an operating license in 2021. Stores that sell medical marijuana in Rhode Island need to pay an annual licensing fee of $500,000 to the state. They also have to submit a surcharge on sales of 4 percent. Consumers pay for the 7 percent sales tax. The private business owner/provider gets to keep the profits from the sale of medical marijuana.

There is a vast infrastructure for the sale of medical marijuana already in place. Some are wondering whether setting up a different model for recreational cannabis makes any sense. According to R.I. in the Department of Business Regulation, Pamela Toro, this model focuses on safety and health while doing something different. According to her, state officials can more effectively fight the black market when they control marijuana prices.




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