A Rhode Island senator says lawmakers are “very close” to reaching a deal on a cannabis legalization bill that might be taken up during a special session this fall. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio was asked for a status report on negotiations that have been taking place on the reform proposal since lawmakers recessed for the session. Ruggerio told WPRI-TV that while there are still major issues to be ironed out, he believes legalization will be tackled in a session before the end of the year. Ruggerio said, “We’ve had people working on that issue since we’ve left the session this year.”
He continued, “We sent legislation – which we think is a very good piece of legislation – over to the House before we left in June,” referring to a legalization bill that his chamber approved in June. The senator concluded, “They are working on that legislation with some of the House people at this point in time.” A special session has not officially been called, but Ruggerio said he feels a consensus on cannabis reform will come in time to call lawmakers back to the State House within the coming months. Ruggerio said, “We’re hoping we can get cannabis done. We’re very close. We’re making progress, but we’re not there at this point in time.”
He continued, “There’s a couple of stumbling blocks that they are addressing right now, and we’ll see how that shakes out.” One of those stumbling blocks pertains to whether the negotiated legalization legislation that’s ultimately produced will be to advocates and progressive lawmakers’ satisfactions, who are largely calling for a reform-based plan that includes bold social equity provisions. Negotiators have been attempting to reconcile competing proposals from the House, Senate, and Governor Daniel Mckee. While both pieces of legislation contain components intended to address the harms of cannabis criminalization, the coalition led by Reclaim Rhode Island feels that they’re insufficient.
Advocates and progressive, supportive lawmakers in the recently-voted-to-legalize state have laid out specific items that they want to see incorporated, such as setting aside half of marijuana business licenses for communities most impacted by prohibition. Representative Karen Alzate, chair of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus, said earlier this month, “We can’t reverse the harm of the war on drugs, but we can start to repair it by passing automatic expungement and waiving all related fines, fees, and court debt.” She concluded, “This bold legalization plan offers us the chance to turn a new leaf for the Ocean State, and it’s time we take it.” Ruggerio, on the other hand, said he feels that the Senate-approved legalization bill contained “very strong social justice provisions” and the expungement provisions are “as close to automatic as practical.”
But Reclaim Rhode Island the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus aren’t the only groups leaning on lawmakers to efficiently pass legalization. The entire coalition consists of 10 drug policy reform and civil rights advocacy groups, which include the RI chapters of the ACLU and NAACP. Notably, both of those groups demanded that lawmakers take steps toward enacting marijuana reform in the Ocean State before the year ends.
House Speaker Joe Shekarchi said over the summer that while there still isn’t a consensus between legislators and the governor about a deal to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would definitely be prioritized if negotiations succeed and a special session is convened in the fall. This is a pivotal moment for Rhode Island, where the future of whether or not residents can twist some rolling papers hangs in the balance. It’s great to see not only cannabis advocates, but those with a political platform as well, are helping to push for marijuana legalization and reform.