PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary and House Finance committees passed revised legislation Wednesday that would decriminalize, regulate and tax adult recreational cannabis use statewide.
The legislation was amended to include the automatic expungement of past cannabis crimes and a delay in the start of recreational sales until December.
The bill now heads to the full Senate and House, both of which have scheduled a vote for Tuesday.
Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. Scott Slater, the legislation’s lead sponsors, celebrated the agreement as a “fair and equitable” bill that addresses social equity concerns while ending the prohibition on cannabis.
“Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process,” Slater said. “The starting line isn’t the same for people in poor, urban and minority communities, and they deserve support to ensure they get the full benefit of participating in legalization.”
The new version of the bill, released Tuesday night, amends the legislation to allow for the automatic expungement of civil or criminal marijuana possession charges. The original bill would have required people to request the expungement from the court, which raised objections from advocates.
The legislation gives the courts until July 1, 2024 to automatically expunge past convictions. It also allows people who want their convictions expunged sooner to request it.
The amended bill would also eliminate the fees medical marijuana patients have to pay, including the cost to get a medical card and plant tags. Recreational home-growers, however, would still be required to pay for plant tags.
“The amended bill is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance and recognizing that we can’t make this transition without taking action to make whole the communities and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition,” Miller said.
If approved, the bill would legalize possession of cannabis right away, though retail sales wouldn’t start until December.
Rhode Island’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries — three are open, and six new ones are trying to get up and running — would be able to transition to hybrid stores first, selling both medical and recreational products Dec. 1.
It would take a while longer for other stores to open after that. The new Cannabis Control Commission is charged with coming up with the process for issuing new licenses for up to 33 stores total, a number that includes the hybrid medical stores.
Steph Machado contributed to this report.