PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The revised state budget unveiled by House leadership on Friday night does not include Gov. Gina Raimondo’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana, but does include her plan to expand the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state from three to nine.
“There’s been a feeling throughout the session that there was not the appetite to legalize,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told reporters at a briefing. “There were pros and there were cons” about legalization, he said, citing public safety and workforce concerns.
The state’s three current licensed dispensaries, known as compassion centers, are in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth. Raimondo proposed adding six, for a total of nine, in an effort to increase access to medical cannabis and possibly bring down prices because of more competition.
Mattiello said the House plan does not include a proposal by Raimondo to restrict home growing to just those medical patients with a “hardship,” and decrease plant counts. Her administration argued the program was being abused and marijuana was ending up on the black market. The proposal drew concerns from patients and caregivers who have relied on home growing for more than a decade, and criticism from those who said it would remove a lower-cost option for cannabis patients.
House leaders are also proposing to double the annual licensing fee for compassion centers from $250,000 to $500,000, a move that would raise an additional $3 million.
Lawmakers hiked the fee last year, too, from $5,000 to $250,000.
Mattiello said the three existing compassion centers will be prohibited from seeking one of the new licenses.
The medical marijuana expansion is part of the state budget proposal released by Mattiello and House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney on Friday night. The plan passed Abney’s committee almost immediately, and will be debated on the House floor next Friday.
Last year, legislative leaders declined Raimondo’s proposal to expand the number of compassion centers, but agreed to do it this year in lieu of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Raimondo had proposed the recreational plan “reluctantly,” she said, because the drug is now legal and being sold at retail stores right over the border in Massachusetts. Her tax-and-regulate plan would have tightly regulated cannabis, banning home growing and restricting edibles. Her plan would have taxed marijuana at about 20%, raising $6.5 million in the upcoming budget year.
Raimondo had also proposed a 40% excise tax on the wholesale price of CBD, a derivative of hemp, but House leaders declined to include that in the budget.