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Rhode Island Lawmakers Approve Safe-Consumption Sites For Drugs As Panel Hears Marijuana Measure

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Rhode Island lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that would establish facilities where people could test and use illegal drugs under medical supervision. Separately, a House panel weighed a measure that would legalize marijuana for adults in the state.

The first piece of legislation, which would launch a pilot program for safe-consumption sites, passed the full House of Representatives in a floor vote. The chamber later signed off on an amended Senate companion bill approved by that body in March. The two measures now go back to the Senate floor for consideration, according to a press release.

During a panel hearing after the floor session, the House Committee on Finance also heard testimony on one of three proposals introduced this session that would legalize cannabis for adult use. Legislative leaders and the governor’s office have indicated they’d like to reconcile the differences between those measures and potentially return to vote on a compromise bill later this year.

Rep. Scott Slater (D), who introduced the House marijuana legalization bill last month, said he purposefully filed the measure late in the session, which is expected to wrap up its business this week. It allowed him to incorporate feedback on a separate Senate legalization bill as well as one introduced by Gov. Dan McKee (D), he said.

“I tried to take everyone’s input and compromise the best piece of legislation that I could see for legal adult-use, recreational cannabis,” Slater said at the hearing.

The main goal of his bill is to create a system that’s “modest and allows for expansion and changes over time,” Slater said, explaining that a slow start to the launch of the commercial market would help avoid oversaturation of the market.

The Senate already passed a separate cannabis legalization measure, on a 29–9 vote last week. “It is important that we act expeditiously to enact a regulatory framework,” Senate Health and Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D) said at the time, noting policy changes in states like neighboring Connecticut, where the state’s governor recently signed a legalization bill into law.

House leadership has indicated, however, that the chamber isn’t ready to pass a legalization bill just yet.

“Absolutely we can and we should [wait], because all of the proposals are very divergent,” House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) said in an interview last week, referring to the House measure, the Senate bill, introduced in March, and the governor’s proposal.

Shekarchi indicated, as he has in the past, that finding agreement among lawmakers might take until fall.

“I don’t know if there’s a combination of the two” bills that could be agreed on, he said. “We’ll have to wait and see where everybody can come together.”

Slater said before Tuesday’s hearing that even if lawmakers don’t strike a deal on legalization until later this year, he’s glad to see his proposal being heard in the House.

“I am happy about it,” he told Marijuana Moment. “I think it puts the bill in play for fall session.” He said the key remaining differences between his bill and the Senate measure include who would regulate the new industry, the number of allowed licensees and proposed criminal penalties for violations of a new cannabis law.

Under the bill, H 6370, adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public. They could also grow up to six cannabis plants at home, with a maximum of 12 plants allowed in residences where more than one adult lives.

Unlike the governor’s measure and the one filed by Senate leaders, the House proposal calls for automatic expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions.

The Department of Business Regulation, which would oversee the marijuana program, could initially license 15 recreational retailers, five of which would be reserved for social equity applicants. Another license would be issued to a worker-owned cooperative.

The state’s three current medical cannabis dispensaries, as well as six additional operators set to be awarded in a planned lottery this summer, would get the remaining adult-use licenses.

No new cultivators would be licensed under the plan for a period of three years.

The Senate measure, meanwhile, would establish a new Cannabis Control Commission to regulate the market and issue business licenses. Existing cultivators would also be protected: Under an amendment approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, there “shall be no new cannabis cultivators’ licenses issued prior to July 1, 2023.

Each municipality could have at least three cannabis retailers operating in their jurisdiction under the Senate plan, and additional retailers could be approved for every additional 20,000 residents above a baseline of 30,000.

The Senate bill has also been amended from its original form to require labor peace agreements for marijuana businesses—a provision that could bolster support among progressives. Some who testified during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s hearing called for a similar provision in the House bill.

Jared Moffett, campaigns manager for the legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, urged lawmakers to move swiftly to pass cannabis legislation this year.

“First I just want to sincerely thank Vice Chair Slater for his years of service and work on this issue. Despite the fact that there are difficulties and challenges of crafting a pretty complex piece of legislation like this, he’s continued to push forward, and I’m grateful for his commitment to seeing this through,” Moffett said.

With more and more Northeast states legalizing cannabis, he said, “Rhode Island is on the verge of being an island of marijuana prohibition in New England, and that’s not where the state needs to be. That’s why it’s crucial that lawmakers prioritize legislation and getting an adult-use market up and running. So there’s still time to act but not much.”

House leadership and the governor’s office have recently indicated that the differences between the bills are likely to be taken up when lawmakers return to the State House later this summer or sometime in the fall. The House Finance Committee previously discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at a hearing in April.

“I’m happy for all the input I received today,” Slater said as the hearing concluded, adding he’d work to incorporate it into his bill. “I’m willing to address equity issues…but everyone’s got to take a step in the direction of there’s going to be some sort of compromise.”

Meanwhile, the separate House-passed legislation to allow people test their already-obtained illegal drugs for content and purity, then use them in a controlled setting, now goes back to the Senate to approve changes.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

That bill, H 5245, aims to address the high numbers of drug deaths in Rhode Island that have only increased during the pandemic. It cleared the chamber on a 62–9 vote despite sharp protest from some Democrats. The Senate-passed companion bill, S 0016, cleared the House without debate later on Tuesday evening.

Rep. Arthur Corvese (D) called the program a “moral oxymoron” that “flies in the face of common sense” during floor debate on Tuesday.

“We should help them,” he said of people with substance use disorders. “There’s ways of helping them. And I’m not sure one of the ways of helping them is having the state sanction a program like this.”

“This bill will keep people alive,” replied the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John G. Edwards (D), who said that the proposal was the top recommendation from a recent task force convened by the governor to study how to reduce drug deaths.

“That’s the end result,” Edwards said. “People who otherwise will die alone somewhere in our state will remain alive.”

He stressed that not only would the bill allow people to use drugs in a safe setting, it would also allow people to test their drugs for contents and purity, which Edwards said would prevent deaths from substances that consumers don’t know contain fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is in everything,” he said. “Fentanyl is what’s driving this.”

Other Democratic supporters said data from similar experiments indicate the proposal would reduce public consumption of drugs and connect consumers with treatment and recovery services.

The bill also won some Republican backing. House Minority Leader Blake Fillipi said he supports the pilot program, slamming the federal government’s war on drugs and arguing that the severity of the state’s drug-death crisis requires lawmakers to consider all options.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing in March on separate legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine, but it has not received a vote.

As for cannabis legalization, McKee, who assumed office after former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) joined the Biden administration as commerce secretary, put the policy change in his proposed budget earlier this year. He said after taking office that “it’s time that [legalization]” happens in the state.

While his predecessor had proposed a first-of-its-kind model that would have Rhode Island itself run the cannabis industry, McKee favors a private, “entrepreneurial strategy.”

That said, he’s also recently downplayed the importance of the policy change this legislative session. He told reporters last week that while he backs legalization, it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

This year’s debate is the result of discussions begun last legislative session. The Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization late last year in preparation for the current term, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), now the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

House Speaker Shekarchi, for his part, said late last year that he was “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization.

Federal Agencies Should Reconsider Firing Workers For Marijuana, Congressional Committee Urges

An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the safe-consumption sites legislation would proceed to the governor’s desk after the House’s passage on Tuesday. Because the legislation was amended, it instead goes back to the Senate for consideration. The article has been updated.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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A California senator is asking the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide clarification on whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D) on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure inquiring about the policy. Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to veto a bill meant to address the issue in 2019.

Hueso refiled a nearly identical version of the legislation for this session, and it’s already passed the full Senate and one Assembly committee. It’s now awaiting action on the Assembly floor before potentially being sent to Newsom’s desk.

“Ryan’s Law would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief,” the senator wrote in the letter to the federal officials, with whom he is asking to meet to discuss the issue. “Currently, whether or not medical cannabis is permitted is left up to hospital policy, and this creates issues for patients and their families who seek alternative, more natural medication options in their final days.”

Hospitals that receive CMS accreditation are generally expected to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to qualify for certain reimbursements. And so because marijuana remains federally illegal, “many healthcare facilities have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds out of a perceived risk of losing federal funding if they were to allow it.”

But Hueso said that his office received a letter from CMS several months ago stating that there are no specific federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Additionally, because the Justice Department has been barred under annually renewed spending legislation from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical marijuana programs, the senator said, “we believe the risk of federal intervention is little to none.”

“This confirmation from CMS been quite a breakthrough and we are optimistic it will alleviate the Governor’s concerns,” the letter continues. “However, I want to underscore that, prior to receiving this response, even the Governor of California was under the impression that CMS rules prohibited hospitals and healthcare facilities from allowing medical cannabis use.”

“Undoubtedly other states are struggling with this issue, too,” it says. “As more states decriminalize cannabis and even create recreational markets, we must not forget to also update the books for the most important consumers of all—patients.”

“While ideally the federal government will remove cannabis from its Schedule I designation, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and complex process. In the interim, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide clarification that assures Medicare/Medicaid providers that they will not lose reimbursements for allowing medical cannabis use on their premises. This clarification would go a long way to help hospital staff, security, above all, patients.”

Becerra, while previously serving as California attorney general and as a member of Congress, demonstrated a track record of supporting marijuana law reform.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in both chambers of Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are currently soliciting feedback on draft legalization legislation they introduced this month.

Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.

The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.

Read the letter from the California senator to Becerra below: 

Marijuana hospital letter t… by Marijuana Moment

Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

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A top Rhode Island lawmaker says that while there’s not yet a consensus among legislators and the governor on a bill to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would be prioritized if a special session is convened this fall.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) told The Public’s Radio that it’s “possible” that a special session will be held later in the year after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on competing reform proposals.

“It really depends if we can come to some kind of resolution of consensus on a couple of major bills,” he said, referring to cannabis and a handful of other issues. “If we can, we certainly would come back.” But if not, members will continue to discuss the proposals and prepare to take them up at the start of the next session in January.

“Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said. “If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.”

Listen to the speaker discuss the marijuana legalization plan, about 1:00 into the audio  below: 

Shekarchi similarly told Marijuana Moment in an email earlier this week that he’s “not opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” but “there have been very divergent proposals offered by Representative Scott Slater, the Senate, the governor and various advocacy groups.”

“As I have done with other issues, my role will be to bring the parties together and see if we can reach a consensus,” he said. “I will be working on the issue this summer and fall, and if an agreement can be reached, it is possible that one piece of legislation will be brought before the legislature for future consideration. But there is a lot of work to be done to reach consensus.”

Shekarchi and other top lawmakers have previously said they will work this summer to try to reach a compromise on the differing provisions of the competing legalization plans.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said earlier this month that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed a cannabis reform measure last month.

Shekarchi previously said that he feels reform is “inevitable.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A key disagreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office concerns who should have regulatory authority over marijuana. Ruggerio was pressed on the issue during the recent interview and said members of his chamber agree that “a separate commission is the way to go with respect to this.”

The House and Gov. Dan McKee (D), on the other hand, want the program to be managed by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Ruggerio noted that “it was difficult to negotiate on a bill when the House bill really didn’t come until late in the session.”

Asked whether he felt the legislature and governor could come to an agreement despite the differences, Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) said this month that “that’s what our goal is.”

“Obviously there’s some issues that different people have relative to different categories of licenses and things like that and how we’re rolling them out,” he said. “Are we going to limit them? what type of equity are you going to give to the different people in different communities so that they can get into the business? And social equity and things of that nature.”

McCaffrey was also asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”

“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”

The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state. .

Shekarchi, meanwhile, said this month that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. But it is the case that legalization has now gone in effect in in surrounding states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I’m not in any hurry to legalize marijuana for the sake of legalizing it. I want to do it right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if we’re the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it, but I need to do it right.”

Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, Shekarchi said.

These latest comment come weeks after the state Senate approved a legalization bill from McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D), which was introduced in March. The governor also came out with his own legalization proposal shortly thereafter.

A third Rhode Island legalization measure was later filed on the House side by Rep. Scott Slater (D) and several cosponsors. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the measure last month.

The governor, for his part, told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.

Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”

Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.

Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

Meanwhile, the governor this month signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

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Ohio lawmakers on Friday formally introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession, production and sales—the first effort of its kind in the state legislature. This comes as activists are pursuing a separate ballot initiative that would effectively force the legislature to consider similar cannabis reforms.

Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) filed the legislation, weeks after circulating a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues to build support for the measure.

The 180-page bill would legalize possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow them to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. It also includes provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.

A 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with revenue first going toward the cost of implementation and then being divided among municipalities with at least one cannabis shop (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent) and infrastructure (35 percent).

“It’s time to lead Ohio forward,” Weinstein said in a press release. “This is a big step for criminal justice reform, for our veterans, for economic opportunity, and for our individual liberties.”

The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for overseeing the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Individual municipalities could restrict the type and number of marijuana that operate in their area. The bill specifically states that the state’s existing medical marijuana program would not be impacted by the establishment of an adult-use market.

“This bill is much needed in Ohio, and it’s time for Ohio to become a national leader in marijuana decriminalization and legalization,” Upchurch said. “This bill is more than just about legalization, it’s about economic and workforce development, it’s about decriminalization, and it’s about healthcare! The time is now, and I look forward to getting this done in a bipartisan fashion.”

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the effort given his record, but activists have effectively demonstrated through local initiatives that voters in the state broadly support enacting a cannabis policy change.

A newly formed organization called the the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) is also actively collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would separately force lawmakers to consider taking up legalization legislation once a certain signature gathering threshold is met.

“I’m glad to see it! It’s added momentum toward legalization,” Weinstein told Marijuana Moment earlier this week of the ballot effort. “And hopefully a looming ballot initiative will add some incentive for my Republican colleagues to work with me on my bill.”

Meanwhile, 22 jurisdictions have adopted local statues so far that reduce the penalty for low-level cannabis possession from a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law.” And activists are pursuing similar policy changes in dozens of cities this year.

Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia, told Marijuana Moment that local officials have so far certified decriminalization initiatives in five cities they were targeting this year: Laurelville, McArthur, Murray City, New Lexington and New Straitsville.

Ohio activists had hoped to place a cannabis legalization initiative on the statewide ballot last year, but that effort stalled as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting public health restrictions made signature gathering all but impossible.

Local advocates sought relief through the court system to make it so they could collect signatures electronically for 2020 ballot initiatives, but the lawsuit was repeatedly rejected—most recently by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which ruled on Wednesday that the challenge was no longer relevant because last year’s election has passed and the case was therefore moot.

Read the text of the Ohio marijuana legalization bill below: 

Ohio marijuana legalization… by Marijuana Moment

GOP Senator Sponsoring Marijuana Banking Bill Proposes Controversial Welfare Restrictions For Cannabis Purchases

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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