PROVIDENCE – House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said Tuesday morning that adult-use recreational marijuana could be legalized in Rhode Island during the 2022 legislative session, with legislation set to be introduced at the beginning of March.
Marijuana legalization could mean a sizable revenue windfall for the state once the local industry is established. Warwick-based Ocean State Cultivation Center Executive David Spradlin previously estimated marijuana sales will generate north of $100 million annually. The global legal marijuana market size is expected to reach $70.6 billion by 2028, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc.
Shekarchi said he expects the marijuana legislation to be introduced into the General Assembly on or about March 1 to go through the hearing process. Shekarchi spoke about marijuana legalization during an event held by the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning.
“That bill will not be the final product,” he said. “I want to caution everyone that the way it will be introduced will not be what it is when it comes out. This is a blueprint of what will come out. We will take public testimony, and hopefully conclude by the end of the General Assembly legislative session.”
Shekarchi said in two weeks there will be a framework for handling a robust public process regarding the legislation, which is more than 100 pages in length.
“People don’t realize that marijuana touches a lot of areas of the law,” he said. “It touches the court system, law enforcement, the Department of Health, taxation, business regulation, and so many other areas.”
“We will need input from the business community at the hearings,” said Shekarchi. “So, speak now or forever hold your peace. There will be public hearings for that process.”
Shekarchi said the introduction of the marijuana legislation will be the starting point for possible legalization. There will be multiple hearings where the public can weigh in, which will likely take the bulk of the legislative session.
“The legislation has a financial impact, so it will be incorporated with the passage of the budget, which typically happens near the end of May or early June,” he said.
The Speaker said the House and Senate are working through all the details before finalizing the initial legislation that will be introduced, and that includes sticking points, such as social equity provisions, expungement of drug convictions, and regulation of the industry.
Shekarchi said he has worked very hard with Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffery, D-Warwick, Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, and Rep. Scott A. Slater, D-Providence, on the legislation.
McCaffrey and Miller co-sponsored the cannabis legislation that passed in the Senate on June 22. It was the first time a marijuana legalization bill had reached the floor of either legislative chamber.
Greg Paré, spokesman for the Senate president, confirmed Shekarchi comments, noting that the legislation is being finalized and will be introduced after Feb. 28.
“Representatives from the Senate and House worked together all off-session and into the start of the new session,” said Paré. “They are in agreement and working on the final language.”
Senate President, Dominick J. Ruggerio, has said time is of the essence with the passing of the legislation, as neighboring states Connecticut and Massachusetts, which have legalized the drug, are gaining a foothold on the industry’s customers.
Ruggerio has made it clear that he does not want to see consumers develop a pattern of crossing the border to purchase legal marijuana, siphoning off millions in state revenue.
In addition to the Senate and House plans, Gov. Daniel J. McKee included his own marijuana legalization proposal in his proposed fiscal 2023 budget.
Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.
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