Rhode Island Governor Pushes for Recreational Cannabis Legalization in Proposed Budget

Gov. Gina Raimondo wants state-controlled recreational marijuana dispensaries opened by March 2021, according to her proposed budget.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) unveiled her proposed budget plan last week, which includes $21.8 million in new revenue from recreational marijuana sales.

Raimondo stated in her executive summary that Rhode Island needed to take a practical look at the state’s financial challenges, noting that the state is “sandwiched between states that have either legalized adult-use marijuana or are seriously considering doing so this year.” Those states are Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Raimondo added, “Regardless of our public policy decision on this issue, Rhode Island will be dealing with the consequences of marijuana legalization in law enforcement, public health, employment issues and beyond.”

Last year, the governor proposed recreational legalization changes in the budget, but was met with opposition. Ultimately, the proposed budget changes were dropped by lawmakers.

Her new proposed budget would establish a recreational marijuana program controlled by the state, with the first cannabis stores opening in March 2021.

“My proposal, which would establish the strictest regulatory framework in the country, will ensure that legalized marijuana will be tightly controlled in Rhode Island with the greatest priority on health and safety,” Raimondo wrote in her budget summary.

According to a Providence Journal report, the proposed budget includes cannabis dispensaries ran by private contractors, with state control on location, price, potency, and inventory while taking 61 percent of net revenue.

The private operators would get 29 percent of the profits and the municipalities where the cannabis dispensaries are located would get 10 percent of profits. Recreational buyers would be restricted to 1 ounce of cannabis per day.

“We are confident that this new proposal deserves a fresh look,” state Director of Administration Brett Smiley told Providence Journal reporters at a briefing. “We are also confident this is the way this country is going.”

According to Raimondo’s proposed budget, released on Jan. 16, cannabis revenue would provide hundreds of thousands in new state spending for cannabis-related activities. Estimates show the state has the potential to make $22 million from cannabis sales over the last four months of 2021.

Raimondo also proposed hiring 13 new regulators in the state’s Office of Cannabis Regulation to manage the new recreational cannabis industry. Find her full proposed FY 2020-2021 state budget, here.

Rhode Island Lawmakers on Marijuana

Some state lawmakers are concerned that adding the proposed cannabis revenue into the state’s fiscal year budget is unwise given that recreational cannabis remains illegal in the state.

Members of the state’s General Assembly voiced reservations about including recreational cannabis in the state’s budget, due to the lack of support for legalization from policymakers.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio told the Providence Journal in an email that he was not satisfied with the decision to add revenue from cannabis into the proposed budget.

“I am disappointed that revenue from the proposed legalization of recreational marijuana was included in the budget proposal. Seeing as the marijuana proposal is unlikely to pass, we effectively have a proposed budget that is out of balance,” Ruggerio wrote.

The state legislature will review the governor’s proposal and then present its plan before the 2021 fiscal year begins in July.

Marijuana in Rhode Island and Elsewhere

Learn more about Rhode Island’s current cannabis laws, or follow the developments of Rhode Island and other states looking to legalize cannabis by checking back in at our cannabis news page. There you can also find the latest reports on cannabis business and scientific research.