House, Senate committees pass marijuana bill to avert legal battle

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The power struggle between Gov. Gina Raimondo and the General Assembly over marijuana regulations appears to be nearly resolved, after two panels passed legislation Tuesday night to fix an issue that caused Raimondo to file a lawsuit last year.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees both approved a bill to repeal the so-called “legislative veto” over marijuana regulations.

Lawmakers gave themselves the power in the budget bill last year, when legislators approved six new medical marijuana compassion centers and also said that compassion center regulations created by the Department of Business Regulation and Department of Health needed to be approved by the General Assembly.

The provision prompted Raimondo to sue House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio last year, claiming a violation of the R.I. Constitution’s separation of powers clause.

Raimondo said Monday night the bill likely makes the lawsuit moot.

The bill almost did a lot more than that: the original version aimed to block Raimondo’s administration from instituting a number of marijuana regulations, including a ban on growing cannabis at new compassion centers, and a geographic zone system to select where the new centers should be located.

Facing outcry from the state-licensed cultivators and a veto threat from Raimondo, House and Senate leaders stripped the bill of those provisions and said they would debate the issues in future legislation.

“Small business wins,” declared Providence Rep. Joseph Almeida, when casting his “yes” vote on the amended bill. The vote was unanimous in favor of the legislation.

The cultivators believe they’ll be put out of business if the new compassion centers can grow their own cannabis, since cultivators are only permitted to sell their product to Rhode Island compassion centers. The three existing centers do grow their own, but also buy from the cultivators to supplement their supply.

When the new centers open, the approximately 18,000 medical marijuana patients will have nine places to buy cannabis, in addition to the ability to grow at home or assign a caregiver to grow for them.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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