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Nineteen and Counting: U.S. State of Rhode Island Legalizes Recreational Cannabis

Adopted legislation requires the full expungement of convictions of those crippled by past possession charges.




The skyline of Rhode Island’s capitol, Providence, is seen in 2017. The Ocean State became the 19th in the U.S. to legalize the adult use of recreational cannabis on May 25, 2022. PHOTO COURTESY KENNETJ ZIRKEL/WIKIMEDIA

Rhode Island has become the 19th U.S. state to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana. Gov. Dan McKee signed the bill into law on May 25th, a day after state legislators in Providence passed the measure by a 32-6 vote. The new law goes into effect immediately, allowing those over the age of 21 to partake in recreational cannabis use without fear of prosecution.

The bill allows adults to publicly possess and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational use. The green thumbed in the Ocean State can raise as many as six cannabis plants at home — three of which can be mature — and keep to ten ounces for personal use.

The new law is especially a win for social justice advocacy groups. The bill requires the full expungement of convictions of those crippled by past possession charges by July 1, 2024. A social equity assistance fund is set aside to provide grants, job training programs and services for disenfranchised communities hit hardest by the “War on Drugs.” Minority groups have been promised a quarter of the 24 retail store licenses to be issued by a state cannabis commission.

Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee is seen last year at a labor conference in Providence, RI. PHOTO SHAWN MORE/DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

“This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled and safe,” McKee said,  calling it “a win for our state both socially and economically.”

While consuming cannabis in the workplace is somewhat protected under the new law, employers can still choose to refuse to hire, terminate and discipline individuals for working under the influence or possessing cannabis. Protection for the “private, lawful use of cannabis outside the workplace” prohibits employers from taking action otherwise. According to the National Law Review, federal employees and contractors are still prohibited from cannabis use under its current federal legal status.


Recreational-use sales will soon commence at Rhode Island’s three existing state-run medical marijuana dispensaries, with the state planning to add six more outlets. Retail sales will begin on Dec. 1, following the issuance of commercial licenses. An excise tax of 10% will be levied on cannabis retail sales, in addition to a sales tax of 7% and a 3% local sales. tax.

“The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use,” said State Senator Josh Miller, who has backed legalization for a decade. “With this bill, we are ending prohibition in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it.”



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