General Assembly holds hearings on governor's marijuana legalization proposal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The state Senate Finance and Judiciary committees will hold a joint hearing Tuesday on Article 20 of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget, which features a plan to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adult use. It also includes amendments to Rhode Island’s existing medical marijuana and hemp laws. The House Finance Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday.

The Senate hearing is scheduled to begin at the rise of the Senate (about 4:30 p.m. ET) in the Senate lounge on the second floor of the State House. The House hearing is scheduled to begin at the rise of the House (about 4:30 p.m. ET) on Wednesday in Room 35 of the State House.

Gov. Raimondo’s legislation would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana or its equivalent in the form of infused products. The Department of Business Regulation would be tasked with regulating the market and licensing marijuana cultivators, processors, and retail businesses. Retail marijuana sales would be subject to a 10 percent excise tax in addition to the state’s standard 7 percent sales tax. Cultivators would also pay an excise tax of $10 per ounce of dried marijuana flowers and $3 per ounce of “trim,” the less potent parts of the plant that are used to make other cannabis products. A detailed summary of the governor’s legalization plan is available at

“This proposal deserves discussion on the floors of both chambers and a vote this year,” said Jared Moffat, Rhode Island political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who plans to testify at the hearing on Tuesday. “Rhode Island has nothing to gain and plenty to lose by sitting on its hands for another legislative session.”

“Legalization has either arrived or is on the horizon in every state in the region,” Moffat said.  “Gov. Raimondo is correct in her assessment that it makes little sense for Rhode Island to become an island of prohibition. States around the country have demonstrated that regulating marijuana works. It addresses the public health and safety problems created by an illicit market, and it allows law enforcement to spend more time addressing serious crimes. It also generates significant tax revenue to fund important public needs like education and infrastructure. 

Voters in Massachusetts and Maine approved laws to regulate marijuana like alcohol in 2016. Vermont’s legislature, which legalized marijuana possession and cultivation for adults last year, is on the verge of approving a law to regulate commercial production and sales. Governors in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York have expressed strong support for enacting legalization legislation in 2019, and proposals to end marijuana prohibition are widely considered to have a realistic chance of passage in all three states. In New Hampshire, a legalization bill passed the House of Representatives with a strong majority last month and is now being considered in the Senate.

“Public opinion has shifted in favor of legalization because the fearful predictions made by opponents simply have not materialized,” said Dr. James Crowley, co-chair of Regulate Rhode Island and former president of the Rhode Island Medical Society. “Across the board, state government surveys show teen marijuana use has not increased following legalization. Study after study is finding marijuana policy reform has not led to an increase in teen use and might even be associated with a decrease. Marijuana prohibition has not improved public health and safety. Regulation would. It’s time for Rhode Island to move forward.”