PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) –Almost a full year after signing marijuana legalization into law, Gov. Dan McKee has finally named his three picks for the new Cannabis Control Commission, which will oversee and regulate the industry.
McKee sent the names of Kimberly Ahern, Robert Jacquard and Layi Oduyingbo to the Senate for consideration.
McKee picked Ahern, his current deputy chief of staff, to chair the three-member commission. Ahern also previously worked for former Gov. Gina Raimondo and in the R.I. Attorney General’s office.
Jacquard, one of the suggested picks submitted by House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, is a former state representative and former Cranston police sergeant.
Layi Oduyingbo is an attorney who current runs a law firm in Cranston, according to McKee’s office, and was previously an accountant.
The R.I. Cannabis Act, which legalized cannabis for recreational use, had called for the governor to name his picks within 40 days of the bill becoming law. McKee signed it into law on May 25 of last year.
The governor had previously said he would name his picks by December of 2022, and then said later said he would name them by the end of January. When he didn’t do so, his office said they were still conducting background checks.
It was not immediately clear when the Senate would take up the picks. Once the commission is in place, it will take control of both the recreational and medical marijuana industry out of the hands of the R.I. Department of Business Regulation. (The DBR will still have a cannabis office to assist the commission.)
The law that passed last year leaves many of the specific decisions about the cannabis industry to the commission, including how Rhode Island will select the remaining businesses — up to 33 total — that will be allowed to sell recreational marijuana to adults 21 and older.
The delay in setting up the commission has caused consternation among existing or prospective business owners hoping to get a license to sell cannabis. Even before the delay in naming the commission members, it was expected to take until 2024 for additional retailers to get up and running.
Some of those new licenses are set aside for social equity applicants and worker co-ops.
In the meantime, existing medical marijuana dispensaries were given hybrid licenses to sell recreational cannabis starting Dec. 1, getting a leg up on the future competition.
The seven retailers did a combined $5.4 million in recreational sales in April, the highest month since stores opened (medical sales dipped in April).
Those retailers have also been frustrated, since the legislation left it up to the commission to set up rules around advertising. In absence of those new rules, Rhode Island marijuana businesses have remained prohibited from advertising, while Massachusetts businesses have billboards all over Rhode Island advertising their dispensaries.
In response to those frustrations, the R.I. House last week passed a bill that would let the state Department of Business Regulation set up advertising rules instead. The legislation is now in the hands of the Senate.
In addition to determining who can sell cannabis, the commission will be able to inspect cannabis businesses, suspend or revoke licenses, and set up rules for things like packaging, labeling, testing and environmental standards.
A cannabis advisory board is also expected to be set up, which will make recommendations on the various rules and regulations. The board has not yet been formed.
Common Cause Rhode Island, a good-government group, took issue with the selection of Jacquard, who was a lobbyist for an Portsmouth marijuana dispensary as recently as last year. Executive director John Marion says the group also opposes the fact that Shekarchi was able to “functionally” select Jacquard as one of the commission members by recommending him to McKee.
“From a separation of powers standpoint we believe the governor should have exclusive power to make those selections,” said John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause. “Even if Mr. Jacquard no longer represents a compassion center, being a lobbyist while also serving as a regulator in this lucrative new industry creates all kinds of potential problems. We’ve seen too much corruption in the legal recreational marijuana industry in states like California and Massachusetts. The regulator should be beyond question.”
Reached by phone, Jacquard said he stopped lobbying for Greenleaf Compassion Center last year when he learned he was being considered for the cannabis commission. And while the firm he works for is still listed as Greenleaf’s lobbyist for the current legislative session, Jacquard said the firm no longer has a relationship with the dispensary.
Jacquard also said he would recuse himself from matters that come before the commission involving Greenleaf.
“Any time that anything arose that I had a personal interest in, or if it was an appearance of impropriety, I always recused myself and will continue to conduct myself in the same manner in the future,” Jacquard said, referring to his time in the General Assembly.
Steph Machado (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.