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A top Rhode Island lawmaker said on Thursday a bill to legalize marijuana in the Ocean State was nearing completion, with only one major provision to be resolved after months of negotiations – and that it is ‘expects the problem to be resolved at the start of the New Year.
House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) told WPRI-TV that while lawmakers are “still not there” on an end product, he is “happy to report that we have been working on almost an issue that remains, but it’s not there yet “. This question concerns who should regulate the cannabis market – a new independent commission or the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR).
The speaker, who had previously said he would be open to compromise on who should regulate the market, pitched the idea that there could ultimately be “a combination of these or a hybrid version. of it ”.
Major lawmakers have been in talks for months to reconcile the competing legalization proposals that have been brought forward by the House, Senate, and governor’s office – and at one point he planned to call a special fall session to enact the resulting agreement, but it did not happen. .
“I have another meeting next week. Hope to wrap up, “Shekarchi said in the new interview, adding that” I expect you to see that [final bill] in the first quarter of 2022.
Watch Shekarchi talk about the state of negotiations on a marijuana legalization bill in the video below:
“We are studying other states. But the marijuana bill in general is a very complicated bill, ”he said. “People just say ‘legalize it.’ It touches on very different areas of law. It concerns taxation. We have to make sure we are doing things right.
He also said that lawmakers “were talking about some kind of delisting process that would also be built into the bill, so it’s a very comprehensive bill.” It is a very thick beak. And that’s in a lot of different areas of law, and I want to make sure we’re doing it right.
“I’ve always said, I don’t necessarily want to be the first, I want to be the best.”
Senator Josh Miller (R), sponsor of a legalization proposal that was approved in the Senate earlier this year, also said in October that regulatory accountability remains a sticking point in negotiations.
It appears that another outstanding issue regarding the number of commercial marijuana licenses to be approved has been resolved, given the speaker’s further comments. Miller’s Bill offered up to 150 cannabis stores, while Gov. Dan McKee (D )’s plan called for 25 and Rep. Scott Slater (D) only wanted 15 in his separate bill.
Negotiators also recently reached an agreement to impose a temporary moratorium on the approval of additional licenses for cannabis growers. Some have protested against adding growers beyond medical marijuana licensees because they say there is already enough supply to meet demand in the adult market.
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But the regulatory authority has yet to be eliminated.
Some, like Miller, want to set up an independent cannabis commission, while others believe the recreational market should be overseen by the DBR, which currently regulates Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program.
Senate Speaker Dominick Ruggerio (R), for his part, said in September that lawmakers were “very close” to reaching agreement on a bill to legalize marijuana.
“We sent a bill – which we think is a very good bill – to the House before we left in June,” the senator said, referring to the legalization bill his chamber approved in. June. “They are working on this legislation with some members of the House right now.”
It remains to be seen whether the negotiated legalization bill that is ultimately produced will satisfy progressive advocates and lawmakers, some of whom have rallied around a reform agenda that emphasizes the need for bold social equity provisions. .
While each of the competing bills contains elements intended to address the harms of criminalizing marijuana, the coalition led by Reclaim Rhode Island says they are insufficient. Supporters and supportive lawmakers have presented specific elements they want to see incorporated, such as setting aside half of commercial cannabis licenses for communities most affected by prohibition.
“We cannot reverse the harms of the War on Drugs, but we can start to fix it by going automatic deregistration and waiving all related fines, fees and court debts,” said Representative Karen Alzate (D ), President of Rhode Island. The Black and Latino Legislative Caucus said in September. “This bold legalization plan offers us the chance to turn a new leaf for the State of the Ocean, and it is time we seized it.”
Ruggerio, for his part, said he believed that the legalization bill that was approved in the Senate contained “very strict social justice provisions” and that the write-off provision is “also close to automatic as possible “.
Reclaim Rhode Island isn’t the only group pushing lawmakers to work quickly to pass legalization. He is part of a coalition of 10 civil rights and drug policy reform groups, including the Rhode Island chapters of the ACLU and NAACP, which recently called on lawmakers to move forward with enacting marijuana reform in the state before the end of 2021.
Shekarchi said in July that while there is not yet a consensus between lawmakers and the governor on an agreement to legalize marijuana, it is still a “doable” issue and would be a priority if lawmakers called a special session this fall.
Slater recently told Marijuana Moment that “things are still where they were” before the end of the session, but lawmakers “are trying to find reconciliation between my bill, the Senate’s bill, and the governor’s bill.”
The summer meetings had been “mostly informal”, said the representative. “I think we can get there before next year. It won’t be perfect, and I’m sure it’s a work in progress.
Ruggerio said in July that he was not disappointed that the House had not yet brought forward legalization legislation and that “what we really wanted to do was send it in and have them reviewed” when his chamber passed his cannabis reform measure.
Shekarchi, for his part, has previously said he believes reform is “inevitable”.
Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) was also recently asked about provisions allowing local municipalities to refuse to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is adopted, communities have the option to opt out.”
“They have the option to opt out if the community does not want to participate,” he said. “It’s their decision, however, they are not getting the funds that would come from sales in this community. “
The Majority Leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have passed legalization, giving the legislature extra momentum to continue with state reform.
Shekarchi, meanwhile, said in July he had no intention of letting regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacted a policy change. Social equity, license fees, collective agreements and home growing arrangements are among the outstanding issues that need to be addressed, the speaker said.
The House Finance Committee held a hearing on Slater’s legalization measure in June.
The governor previously told reporters that while he supported legalization, it was “not one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we are not in contention with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue. “.
“I think we have to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and the Senate.
The House finance committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end the ban at an earlier hearing in April.
The governor’s and rulers’ legalization plans are particularly different from the proposal former Governor Gina Raimondo (D) included in her budget last year. Before stepping down to join the Biden administration as secretary of commerce, she called for legalization through a state-run model.
McKee gave a first glimpse of his take on reform in January, saying “It’s about time that [legalization] happens “and that he’s” more inclined to an entrepreneurial strategy out there to let it go that way. “
Shekarchi, meanwhile, said he was “absolutely” open to the idea of legalizing cannabis and also leaned towards privatization.
Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began a preliminary review of legalization ahead of the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting reform as inevitable. “I certainly think we will act on the issue, whether it is more private or more state-owned,” said at the time Senator Ryan Pearson (R), who now chairs the panel.
Meanwhile, the governor signed a landmark bill in July to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources for treatment. Harm reduction advocates say it would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance abuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow facilities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs and replace them with a fine of $ 100.
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