May 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Rhode Island becomes 20th state to legalize recreational marijuana

Marijuana legalization by state
Data: DISA; Map: Axios Visuals

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee (D) signed legislation Wednesday that legalizes recreational marijuana use in the state for adults 21 and older.

Why it matters: Rhode Island is now the 20th state in the country, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize marijuana for non-medical use.

The new law allows licensed cannabis retailers to sell marijuana, and adults to possess up to 1 ounce, starting Dec. 1, 2022.

  • Adults will also be allowed to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana in their home and to cultivate up to three mature cannabis plants.

What they're saying: “This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” McKee said in a statement Wednesday.

  • “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions," he added. "My Administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue."
  • "The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.”

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association criticized the law in a statement Wednesday, saying it does not address driving under the influence of marijuana or the use of marijuana in public, creating a "public nuisance."

  • “Further evaluation of several aspects of the bill is needed in order to support a safe and healthy environment for all Rhode Islanders," Sidney Wordell, executive director of the association, said.

The big picture: Rhode Island's new law comes a day after Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) vetoed legislation that would have legalized recreational use in the state.

  • "I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people," Carney said in a statement Tuesday.
  • "Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved," he added.

On the federal level, Senate Democrats' push to reform marijuana laws has largely stalled despite polls showing broad public support for legalizing and normalizing the use of pot.

  • The House passed legislation in early April that would, if passed by the Senate and signed into law, decriminalize cannabis on the federal level and allow for the expungement of some marijuana convictions.

Go deeper: Courts may release marijuana dispensary licenses

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the date when the new law goes into effect — Dec. 1, 2022, not Dec. 1, 2020.

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