As Rhode Island gears to launch adult-use cannabis sales by Dec. 1, 2022, local leaders throughout the state are deliberating over whether they should put an opt-in referendum before their voters on the November ballot.

When Gov. Dan McKee signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act on May 25, officially making Rhode Island the 19th state to legalize adult-use cannabis in the U.S., the approved legislation included a provision for municipal authority.

While the state’s nine medical cannabis dispensaries—dubbed compassion centers—as well as existing cultivators, manufacturers and testing facilities are grandfathered in and allowed to continue their current business practices, any city or town that does not currently host an existing operator can put an opt-in ballot question to its voters.

Under the signed legislation, that question must read: “Shall new cannabis related licenses for businesses involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and for the retail sale of adult recreational use cannabis be issued in the city (or town)?”

So far, a dozen municipalities have passed resolutions via their town councilors to include that question on November’s ballot, according to ABC-affiliate WLNE. Those 12 towns include:

Barrington Bristol Charlestown CoventryCumberland East Greenwich Hopkinton North KingstownScituateTivertonWarren West Greenwich

Cumberland and Coventry, towns of roughly 35,000 residents, are the most populated among those 12.

While there are 39 incorporated municipalities in Rhode Island, many of the state’s most populous cities, like Providence and Warwick, already have medical dispensaries that will have the first go in the adult-use retail market but would need to pay a $125,000 fee—to be deposited in a social equity fund—to become “hybrid” cannabis retailers.

Another 24 adult-use retail licenses will be distributed equally among six geographic zones in the state. But municipal participation within those zones won’t be determined—at least for communities that don’t have existing medical cannabis operators—until November.  

“If a majority of ballots cast on which the electors indicated their choice is against granting the licenses, then no new license pursuant to this chapter shall be issued by the commission relating to the sale of recreational cannabis within the city or town,” the legislation states.

However, any city or town that by referendum declines to allow the issuance of new adult-use cannabis licenses will not be eligible to receive state revenue from the industry—including a 10% cannabis excise tax levied on retail sales, as well as the state’s 7% sales tax and a 3% local tax for the municipalities where the cannabis sales take place.

Furthermore, if voters choose to opt in for their municipality, the legislation does provide for local control: City or town officials can adopt ordinances or bylaws that impost reasonable safeguards on public consumption and the operations of cannabis establishments within their jurisdictions.

The deadline for city and town officials to approve the referendum for this November’s ballot is Aug. 10.

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