McKee, RI Senate leaders to unveil separate plans for legalizing pot

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Tom Mooney

| The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE — Two separate plans to legalize recreational use of marijuana are expected to be unveiled this week, one put forth by Senate leaders and the other by Gov. Dan McKee as part of his state budget proposal.

The proposals will differ in the details; Senate leaders are expected to hold a briefing on their bill Tuesday afternoon.

McKee’s plan, The Journal has learned, will call for 25 state-licensed retail stores in the first year of a three-year initiative — with minority-owned businesses and the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries getting the first opportunities to enter the lucrative recreational market.

License recipients would be chosen by a lottery, much like the system expected to be used this year to choose who gets to run six newly proposed medical marijuana dispensaries.

Those six new dispensaries would bring to nine the state’s total number of medical marijuana dispensaries. And those facilities would be eligible automatically to sell recreational marijuana without going through the lottery process — provided they demonstrate plans to meet the needs of the state’s registered marijuana patients.

Recreational sale of marijuana would begin in April 2022 under McKee’s proposal.

Depending on market demand, the state would hold another lottery for 25 more retail store licenses in the second year, and a third lottery for 25 additional licenses in the third year.

Former Gov. Gina Raimondo first proposed legalizing recreational marijuana in 2019, saying the state was facing the “inevitable” prospect of being encircled by states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

Under that 2019 plan, the state would prohibit home-growing of recreational pot — now allowed in Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont — and ban high-potency products from recreational store shelves, such as “dabs,” which are concentrated resins that are smoked.

But that measure failed to pass the General Assembly with both House and Senate leaders opposed to legalization at the time.

Raimondo tried unsuccessfully again last year, proposing retail stores that would be run by private contractors, with the state controlling the location, price, potency and quantity of sales while taking 61% of net revenue. The private operators would get 29% of the profits and the host municipalities 10%.

Since then Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has dropped his objection to legalization and the new House Speaker, K. Joseph Shekarchi, has said the issue should be properly debated.

Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in 15 states and the District of Columbia, and 35 states have approved medical marijuana programs.

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