Democrat Daniel McKee was sworn in as Rhode Island governor yesterday after the U.S. Senate confirmed Gina Raimondo as President Joe Biden’s Commerce Secretary. McKee had previously served as Raimondo’s lieutenant governor.
Raimondo had been a proponent of legalization as Rhode Island governor, including it in her 2020 Executive Budget, but was rebuffed by lawmakers. Her new role as commerce secretary includes, among other things, promoting economic growth, job creation, and balanced economic development, which would all be enhanced by federal cannabis policy reforms.
As recently as 2019, McKee said he did not support cannabis legalization; however, JD Supra reports that in January he said that “it’s time [legalization] happens.” According to the report, McKee supports a system of privately-run dispensaries, a contrast to his predecessor who backed a plan for state-run cannabis shops.
The state is also facing a $275 million budget gap, which could press lawmakers to enact the reforms this session. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) has indicated that the chamber is “very close” to having majority support for the reforms and that he is “absolutely” open to the idea, according to JD Supra. Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D), called for legalization in January.
“The time has come to legalize adult cannabis use. We have studied this issue extensively, and we can incorporate the practices we’ve learned from other states.” – McCaffrey via JD Supra
If lawmakers were to approve cannabis legalization this session – JD Supra notes that most major legislation is not passed in Rhode Island until the General Assembly is set to adjourn in June – sales wouldn’t likely commence until mid-2022 at the earliest.
In a January interview with ABC6, state Rep. Karen Alzate (D) put the chances of passing the reforms this session at 95%.
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