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New Rhode Island Marijuana Regulatory Commission Holds First Meeting



“We know that many people have been waiting for us to start. And we are looking forward to working.”

By Christopher Shea, Rhode Island Current

Nearly a year after it was supposed to be formed, Rhode Island’s Cannabis Control Commission is finally getting to work, though it will take at least through the summer until it is truly up and running.

The three-member commission met for the first time Thursday at the Department of Administration building to introduce itself to the public, along with listening to a 50-minute presentation from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission — which took up most of the hour-long meeting.

“We know that many people have been waiting for us to start,” Commission Chair Kimberly Ahern said in an interview after the meeting. “And we are looking forward to working.”

Along with Ahern, commission members include former State Rep. Robert Jacquard and personal injury attorney Olayiwola Oduyingbo. The Cannabis Control Commission has yet to schedule its second meeting.

The commission is tasked with overseeing regulation and licensing of recreational and medical marijuana in the state. That process is likely to begin later in the summer, Ahern said.

First, Ahern said, the commission still needs to hire two positions: an administrative professional and its chief legal counsel. The chief legal counsel has a salary ranging from $105,319 to $122,2900. The position was posted online Tuesday and is open for applications through July 6.

As of Thursday June 29, there is no online posting for an administrative professional.

Ahern said commissioners also plan to conduct a listening tour across Rhode Island, which she said was done by the Cannabis Control Commission in neighboring Massachusetts. No stops have been scheduled yet, but Ahern said sessions will likely be held in municipalities like Bristol, Providence, and Warwick.

“Maybe even further depending on how the turnout is,” she said. “Once we do that, then we’ll have a better baseline for future meetings.”

Hearing from all Rhode Islanders, Ahern said, ties in with the commission’s goal of prioritizing social equity measures.

Under the state’s marijuana legalization law, a “social equity” applicant as someone who has “been disproportionately impacted by criminal enforcement of marijuana laws, including individuals convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses, immediate family members of individuals convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses, and individuals who have resided in disproportionately impacted areas for at least five of the last 10 years.”

“We want to hear from those who have been most closely impacted,” Ahern said.

The state currently has seven licensed compassion centers allowed to sell recreational and medical marijuana in Rhode Island. The commission is empowered to grant 24 more retail licenses, with six reserved for social equity applicants and another six are reserved for worker owned cooperatives.

But before that can happen, the state still needs to set up a Cannabis Advisory Board, consisting of 11 voting members and eight non-voting members. The board will make recommendations on rules and regulations to the commission.

“We need that board,” said Jason Calderon, the vice president and CEO of Bonsai Buds, an Exeter-based cannabis cultivator. “And how long is that going to take?”

Without a Cannabis Advisory Board, Caledron said the Commission can’t really do its job, which impacts his business. With things moving this slowly, he said his three-year business plan won’t likely become reality until six or seven years.

Thankfully, he said his cultivation business has enough revenue to be self-sustaining.

“Right now we’re in survival mode, we should be in thriving mode,” Calderon said.

What could allow his business to thrive is the ability to advertise, which up until this month was banned for Rhode Island-based dispensaries. The General Assembly passed legislation that lets the Office of Cannabis Regulation create rules around marijuana advertising for hybrid cannabis retailers — not cultivators.

“That just creates another monopoly,” Calderon said. “It’s like this state loves to create things that create conflicts of interest.”

Ahern said there is no time frame yet on when the commission expects to take over advertising rules.

“When we start getting into the actual body of the regulations, that will be one of the meetings,” she said.

Though Calderon expressed frustration with the slow movement by the state to support its marijuana industry, he said he is happy to see the commission formed and meeting.

“Now we actually have an accountability body,” Calderon said. “That’s huge.”

This story was first published by Rhode Island Current.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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