PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Residents in 31 cities and towns voted Tuesday if cannabis businesses should be allowed to open in the community where they live.
Gov. Dan McKee signed a bill into law earlier this year that allows adults over 21 to possess, use and grow cannabis. It also expunges past convictions and sets up a new framework for sales and taxation at state-sanctioned stores.
The question on the ballot read, “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)?”
The vote was rejected by Barrington, East Greenwich, Jamestown, Little Compton, Scituate and Smithfield, where cannabis retailers will now be banned.
The referendum was approved by: 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.
Municipalities that didn’t hold a vote will allow cannabis businesses to open there.
Even if your municipality voted yes, it doesn’t mean a store will open there. Recreational sales are starting at existing medical marijuana dispensaries on Dec. 1, and future store locations have not yet been proposed. State law allows there to be 33 stores statewide.
There can also be more than one store in some municipalities.
The law also created a new 3% local tax on recreational cannabis sales, which will go directly to the city or town where marijuana is sold. Communities that voted to ban retail sales will not be eligible for any of the revenue.
Dr. Magnus Thorsson, founder of the Cannabis Entrepreneurship Program at Johnson and Wales, says now, Rhode Island communities will need to evaluate what their competitive approach is going to be.
He says established recreational pot shops in Massachusetts, where the drug was legalized six years ago, have the edge.
“If we think about the border towns with Massachusetts, for example, it may not be a viable from a competitive standpoint,” Thorsson said.
That includes border communities like Burrillville, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Cumberland, East Providence, and Tiverton.
The demand is evident in communities like Woonsocket, where 62% of voters approved the measure, despite shops being open in neighboring Blackstone, Mass.
“Service, experience, brand, and price: these are going to be the important factors that Rhode Island businesses that are coming to the game three years later than Massachusetts are going to have to take into account,” Thorsson added.