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Rhode Island lawmakers near marijuana legalization deal, but governor not sold on major condition

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Key Rhode Island lawmakers say they are close to reaching an agreement on a marijuana legalization law they plan to introduce within days. But one part of the deal could jeopardize support from the conservatives.

Lawmakers have been in talks for months to reconcile competing legislative proposals presented by the House, Senate and the governor’s office. Several issues were resolved during the course of the negotiations, but the question of who should be responsible for organizing the program – an existing agency or a newly created body – was a sticking point.

Lawmakers now suggest that the best path to satisfy both sides is to create a compromise approach in which a government agency such as the Department for Business Regulation (DBR) and the new Independent Cannabis Commission play a role.

House Speaker Joseph Shirkari (D) said at the opening Notes At the start of the 2022 hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers “spent months analyzing the complex issue of marijuana legalization.”

“The House and Senate intends to have draft legislation ready soon, which will serve as a framework for initiating a robust public hearing process,” he said. “We may not be the first state to legalize marijuana, but our goal is to do it in the way that is best for all Rhode Islanders.”

The spokesperson said recently interview With The Boston Globe that lawmakers “met together in a framework likely to be introduced in mid-January.” This will likely include a proposal to create a “hybrid model” of market regulation.

But Governor Dan McKee (D-D), who suggested that DBR itself regulate the cannabis industry in legalization legislation he introduced last year, has yet to sign off on the hybrid idea, Representative Scott Slater (D-D) told Marijuana Moment.

Having said that, “If we put together a bill that most people would support,” the legislator doesn’t expect to veto it.

“I think we should have a bill soon,” said Slater, who introduced a bill to end the cannabis ban last year.

Senator Josh Miller (D), sponsor of one legalization proposal approved in the Senate last year, told Marijuana Moment that he agreed that lawmakers “should have a bill very soon with a structure very close” to what the spokesperson described. Miller’s legislation proposed the creation of a new cannabis commission to oversee the market.

Senate President Dominic Rogerio (D), a Democrat, said in his opening remarks Wednesday that the bill passed by the Senate last year “included substantive measures to correct errors associated with decades of prohibition policies.”

He noted that Senate leaders in recent months have worked with the House of Representatives on a deal that “preserves the basic principles of our proposal.”

“Because of these efforts, I expect the General Assembly to legalize cannabis in this legislative session,” he said.

Shakarji told The Globe that the upcoming negotiating law could still be changed even after it was introduced.

“But that doesn’t mean this is the end,” he said. “This is the beginning of a process – a very robust, public, and transparent process where I’m sure the bill will continue to change and evolve.”

The former spokesperson said that He would be open to a compromise on the organizational structure He hinted at the possibility of a hybrid model.

Another problem with the number of commercial marijuana licenses seems closer to a solution. Bill Miller proposed as many as 150 cannabis stores, While Macy’s plan called for 25 And Slater wanted only 15 in a separate House bill. “We will probably be more in the 30, 40” range as part of a deal, Miller said at an event in October.

negotiators He also recently reached an agreement To impose a temporary moratorium on the approval of additional licenses to grow cannabis. Some have protested the addition of growers other than the current licensees of medical marijuana because they say there is already enough supply to meet demand in the adult use market.

Ruggerio, for his part, said so in September Lawmakers ‘very close’ to reaching an agreement On the marijuana legalization bill

“We sent legislation — we think it’s very good legislation — to the House before we left in June,” the senator said, referring to the legalization bill that his House approved in June. “They are working on this legislation with some members of the House of Representatives at this time.”

The other thing that remains to be seen is whether the negotiated legalization bill that was eventually passed will satisfy advocates and progressive lawmakers, some of whom have. Rally behind an agenda for reform That emphasizes the need for bold social justice provisions.

While every competing bill contains ingredients intended to address the harms of decriminalizing marijuana, the Reclaim Rhode Island-led coalition said it’s not enough. Advocates and supportive lawmakers have set out specific provisions they want to see incorporated, such as disqualifying half of the cannabis business licenses for the communities most affected by the ban.

“We can’t reverse the damage from the War on Drugs, but we can start to fix it by passing automatic write-offs and waiving all related fines, fees and court debts,” Rep. September. “This bold plan of legislation gives us the opportunity to turn a new page on the Ocean State, and it is time for us to take it.”

Rogerio said he feels that the legalization bill approved in the Senate contains “very strong social justice provisions” and that the exclusion clause is “as close to automatic as it is practical.”

As he said in July that Not disappointed the House of Representatives did not introduce legalization legislation So now that “what we really wanted to do was send him in and have them take a look at him” when his room passed the cannabis fix.

A coalition of 10 advocacy groups for civil rights and drug policy reform—including the Rhode Island chapters of the ACLU and the NAACP—demanded: Lawmakers push ahead with marijuana reform age in the state before the end of 2021. But this has not been achieved.

Lawmakers noted that neighboring countries like Connecticut and Massachusetts Cents legalization, This adds impetus to the legislator to pursue reform in the state.

Meanwhile, Skarchy said in July he had no intention of letting regional pressure dictate the timetable when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. The spokesperson said social justice, licensing fees, work agreements and home growth provisions are among the outstanding issues that must be addressed.

The Finance Committee of the House of Representatives Held a hearing on the Slater legalization procedure in June.

The governor previously told reporters that while he supports legalization, it “is not as one of my highest priorities,” adding, “We are not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, referring to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House of Representatives Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end the ban At a previous hearing in April.

The governor’s and leaders’ legalization plans differ markedly from the proposal that former Governor Gina Raimondo (Dim) included in her budget in 2020. Before Leave office to join Biden administration As Minister of Commerce Called for legalization through a state-run model.

Mackie offered initial insights into his view on reform last January, saying, “It’s time for that.” [legalization] Happens “and it” more Leaning towards entrepreneurial strategy There to allow it to be this way.”

Meanwhile, Shkarji said that Totally open to the idea of ​​legalizing cannabis It also tends towards privatization.

In late 2020, the Senate Finance Committee Initial consideration of certification has begun In preparation for the 2021 cycle, when lawmakers generally accept reform as an imperative. “I definitely think we’re going to take action on this issue, whether it’s more private or more private,” Senator Ryan Pearson (D), who is now the committee chair, said at the time.

Meanwhile, governor in July Signing a historical invoice to allow safe consumption sites Where people can use illegal drugs under medical supervision and receive the resources needed to go into treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help remove the stigma of substance abuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow these facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing last year on legislation that would End criminal penalties for possession of small quantities of drugs and replaced with a $100 fine.

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