If State Legalizes Marijuana, Does EG Want In?

by | Mar 17, 2022

The Town Council could put a question on the November ballot 

The Town Council Monday night heard an overview of potential legislation before the General Assembly that would legalize recreational marijuana in what was a first step in grappling with how the town might respond. 

Right now, the Senate and the House have similar bills proceeding through committee. Governor Dan McKee also has a proposal in his budget. Town Manager Andy Nota and Council President Mark Schwager both think approval at the state level is likely this year. In anticipation of that, Town Solicitor Peter Skwirz presented a memorandum about the proposals to the council at their regular Monday meeting. 

“The proposed legislation would create a state system for licensing the cultivation and sale of recreational cannabis, similar to the system in place for licensing medical cannabis. While the proposed legislation is extensive, there are three areas of concern to municipalities,” he wrote (read the full memo HERE).

First, the legislation calls for a 3 percent municipal excise tax on retail sales that would be collected by the state along with a 7 percent state excise tax. 

Second, the legislation would allow the Town Council to put a question on the Nov. 8 ballot to read, “Shall cannabis licenses for businesses involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and for the retail sale of adult recreational use cannabis be issued in the town?” If the council adopts a resolution placing this question on the ballot, the state would be prohibited from issuing any cannabis licenses until after the Nov. 8 election, depending on the outcome. 

Third, if the town were to approve cannabis sale and manufacture, etc., it could pass an ordinance to “impose reasonable safeguards on the operation of cannabis establishments, provided they are not unreasonable and impracticable” or in conflict with state law or regulation. In other words, it could potentially identify zoning rules for where such businesses could be located, signage, etc., although “reasonable” is not defined. 

Right now, the state is divided into six cannabis regions, with East Greenwich in a region with North Kingstown, Warwick and Cranston. Under the House and Senate proposals, there could be no more than 24 licenses per year, 4 per zone; in the governor’s proposal, there could be 25 licenses per year and one municipality could have multiple licenses. But June – the time the General Assembly traditionally finishes its budget process – is a long way off in legislative terms. A lot can change in these proposals. 

Still there are issues to be vetted, regardless of what the final legislation looks like. Because of that, Nota said he wanted to get input from Police Chief Steven Brown, Fire Chief Bernie Patenaude and the town’s drug and alcohol counselor, Bob Houghtaling. 

The town has until early August (90 days before the election) to submit a proposed ballot question to the Secretary of State’s office. 

“We’re looking for input from municipal staff,” said Schwager, “and input from the public…. We have a little time. And I suspect the bill is going to change quite a bit. But we need to be ready to go once the final bill is voted on.”

Top photo by Add Weed on Unsplash

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