Rhode Island has had one of the more comprehensive medical marijuana programs on the East Coast for more than 10 years. But with eight states legalizing recreational adult cannabis use, and neighboring Massachusetts set to cash in next year, lawmakers in Rhode Island are trying their best to make sure they don’t miss the boat.
As the Democrat-controlled Rhode Island General Assembly prepares to start their spring session, Rep. Scott Slater is pushing recreational cannabis legalization in an attempt to set up a regulated market before similar shops can open across the border in Massachusetts.
With Massachusetts lawmakers delaying the voter approved recreational sale start date until at least the beginning of 2018, Slater sees the coming legislative session as a prime opportunity to leapfrog the neighboring state.
"We'll definitely be able to beat Massachusetts to the punch," Slater told the Associated Press. "They seem to keep delaying it."
Slater believes that the current Rhode Island legalization legislation, aptly named Senate Bill 420, has enough support to pass this session if brought to a vote, with the state’s Governor Gina Raimondo also expressing interest in bringing recreational legalization to Rhode Island.
Even in a state controlled by democrats, though, not everyone is on board with legal weed. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin still staunchly opposes efforts to legalize, and has organized an anti-legalization campaign aimed at taking down Slater’s legislation.
The first legislative hearing to discuss this year’s legalization proposal will be held on Tuesday in the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee, where legislators will be able to make their case for or against the cannabis bill.
With Massachusetts regulations still uncertain, there’s a lot of tax revenue and tourism dollars at stake for the first East Coast state with a successful recreational retail market - only time will tell if Rhode Island will be able to pass legislation and take advantage of Massachusetts’ cold feet.