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Agreement on a bill to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island is finally being struck, legislative leaders said this week.

While there are still some outstanding issues to be resolved, such as which agency should be responsible for regulating the market, lawmakers have made significant progress and reached compromises on a number of issues, Senator Josh Miller (D), sponsor of a legalization proposal, said at a panel hosted by Johnson & Wales University.

Miller warned he couldn’t be particularly specific on the details given that negotiations are underway, but he expressed optimism that lawmakers are on the cusp of a deal.

One question that is close to consensus concerns the number of commercial marijuana licenses that could be authorized. The Miller Bill, which was approved by the Senate earlier this year, offered up to 150 cannabis stores, while Gov. Dan McKee (D )’s plan called for 25 and Rep. Scott Slater (D) did wanted 15 in its separate bill.

The senator said that “we are probably more in the 30, 40 range”.

Radiation is another issue that is being addressed. There is agreement that the social justice component should be included in any law ultimately passed, but Miller explained that there are some treatment challenges.

For example, possession conviction files do not always specify the amounts, which could complicate any automated erasure procedure to erase the files of people convicted of offenses made legal by the reform.

“What we are trying to do is create a mechanism to give the attorney general or the court system an element of time – maybe 90 days – to find an element of quantity that would disqualify them,” the senator said. .

Negotiators also 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.

These are all positive developments that signal an upcoming deal, but the sponsor said negotiators have yet to determine which body should be responsible for regulating the adult use market.

Some, like Miller, want to set up an independent cannabis commission, while others believe the recreational market should be overseen by the State Department of Business Regulation (DBR), which currently regulates the cannabis program. Rhode Island medical marijuana.

According to WPRI-TV, whose journalist Steph Machado also participated in Tuesday’s panel, negotiators are leaning towards a hybrid model, with responsibilities shared by DBR and a separate commission.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) would be open to compromise, a spokesperson for the leader told the TV station. Lawmakers reviewed regulatory models in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

A McKee spokesperson said, “The governor supports recreational cannabis and his team is actively working with our partners in the General Assembly on a fair and beneficial bill for Rhode Island. Conversations are continuing and we hope that an agreement can be reached. “

Senate Speaker Dominick Ruggerio (D), for his part, said last month that lawmakers were “very close” to reaching agreement on a bill to legalize marijuana that could be considered during a special session this fall.

“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 a legalization bill his chamber approved in. June. “They are working on this legislation with some members of the House right now.”

The prospects of holding a special session could be enhanced if the legislature decides to pass separate legislation addressing federal coronavirus relief, Miller said at Wednesday’s conference. panel.

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 to 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 begin to fix it by moving to automatic deregistration and waiving all related fines, fees and court debts,” said Representative Karen Alzate (D ), President of Rhode Island. Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said last month. “This bold legalization plan gives 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 felt the legalization bill that was approved in the Senate contained “very strict social justice provisions” and that the write-off provision was “as 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 a deal to legalize marijuana, it is still a “doable” issue and would be a priority if negotiations succeed this summer and that a special session is convened 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 legislation on legalization and that “what we really wanted to do was send it in and have them throw a at a glance ”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 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, labor 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 if 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 in 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 time for [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 Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who is now chair of 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.

New York regulators decide to let medical cannabis patients grow theirs, take stock of marijuana radiation

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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