Mattiello, Ruggerio backtrack on medical marijuana bill

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Amid an organized effort from outraged cannabis cultivators, R.I. House and Senate leaders have decided to amend legislation that would have allowed new marijuana dispensaries to grow unlimited quantities of cannabis.

The new bill now only addresses the so-called “legislative veto,” which is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Gov. Gina Raimondo last year.

The bill in question, sponsored by both House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, was originally aimed at blocking some of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed marijuana regulations. The leaders said the regulations overreached her authority by — among other things — making new marijuana dispensaries retail-only despite the legislators’ own intentions in their own bill last year.

But state-licensed cannabis cultivators testified last week that the effect of the bill would be an end to their small businesses, which grow cannabis and sell it to the dispensaries, known as compassion centers.

Six new compassion centers are expected to be licensed this year. The cultivators’ concern is that if the centers can grow unlimited cannabis, the market for medical marijuana will be totally fulfilled by the centers and the cultivators will go out of business.

The amended bill strips out four provisions aimed at blocking the Raimondo administration from making certain regulations, only keeping in a repeal of the legislative veto.

Lawmakers gave themselves the ability to approve marijuana regulations last year, causing Raimondo to sue Mattiello and Ruggerio, claiming a violation of the R.I. Constitution’s separation of powers.

The amended bill is scheduled for a vote in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees Tuesday evening.

The amendment does not settle the issue of whether the new compassion centers will be able to grow, or how much; that will likely be addressed in future legislation.

“For us, this bill was never about the merits of issues around the medical marijuana system in Rhode Island,” Mattiello and Ruggerio said in a joint statement. They said the “best path forward” was to address the separation of powers issue in the lawsuit before discussing other marijuana legislation.

“The fact is that the administration clearly overstepped their authority and attempted to legislate through their regulations,” the two leaders said. “The proposed regulations include provisions that the Governor tried and failed to enact through the Legislature. To then turn around and put those provisions into regulations is an attempt to unconstitutionally skirt the legislative process.”

Raimondo said earlier Monday she would have vetoed the original version of the bill, if it wasn’t amended.

Monday night, she said she was pleased the leaders backed off.

“I appreciate that they listened, and I appreciate that it looks like they are going to send me something that I can sign,” Raimondo told WPRI 12.

“We’re so grateful that the General Assembly heard us,” said Katie Sokol Ratkiewicz, the president of the Rhode Island Cannabis Association. “They heard our concerns and they acted accordingly.”

The group had planned to hold a rally against the bill in Pawtucket Monday night; it turned into a celebration afterword was received about the amended bill. Sokol Ratkiewicz said there’s still more to be done, since lawmakers are likely to introduce further legislation related to the medical marijuana industry.

“Medical marijuana is a new industry and we have to get it right,” Raimondo said. “We have to protect patient access, and we have to keep it all above board. No special favors for the well=-connected, and we also have to make sure that there’s not too much of a black market.”

She added that she believes the amended legislation will make her lawsuit moot.

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

Rob Nesbitt contributed to this report.

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

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