PROVIDENCE — State lawmakers now have a third option to consider regarding legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
House Rep. Scott Slater introduced a bill Thursday that he says addresses the concerns progressive advocates have about proposals by Gov. Dan McKee and Senate leaders, and which could have existing medical marijuana dispensaries selling adult-use cannabis this summer.
The bill would set aside 5 of 15 initial retail licenses for “social equity” applicants and delay most other retail pot stores from opening until 2025 — easing, Slater said, the concerns of some community leaders who want more say over hosting such establishments.
“I just think it’s a slower approach that allows for a lot of control for cities and towns, but also listens to the concerns of social-equity folks,” Slater said Thursday before submitting his bill.
Social advocates have said any legalization bill must focus on helping those communities of color disproportionately hurt during the decades-long war on drugs.
They have called for automatic expungement of past marijuana convictions and up to 50% of recreational marijuana licenses going to disadvantaged communities.
Slater’s bill calls for automatic expungement while giving the director of the Department of Business Regulation authority to issue 15 retail licenses beginning July 1.
Nine of those licenses would be reserved for the three current and six proposed medical marijuana dispensaries, while 5 others would be for social equity applicants and 1 for a worker-owned cooperative.
The three existing dispensaries — located in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth — could begin selling recreational cannabis immediately, Slater said, since they already meet all regulatory mandates and were given preference to sell recreational marijuana in previous legislation. The other proposed facilities would take longer to open.
(The DBR had hoped to hold a lottery this spring for licenses of six proposed additional medical marijuana dispensary licenses. But that lottery has been pushed back to August, regulators say, after one of four applicants initially ruled ineligible for the lottery is appealing that decision.)
By comparison, the governor’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana calls for 75 retail marijuana stores rolled out over three years, with 25 stores licensed each year through a state-run lottery.
The Senate bill calls for creation of a new Cannabis Control Commission that could eventually license up to 150 stores, by some estimates. But getting such a commission up and running will take time, senators concede.
The governor’s proposal includes 20% of new licenses designated for minority owned businesses.
The Senate bill establishes a social equity fund from marijuana business fees for disadvantaged applicants to enter the industry. And it also creates a fund from marijuana proceeds that would provide assistance to people wanting to expunge previous marijuana-related offenses.
But progressive groups have said neither of those bills goes far enough to help minority groups.
Tyler Brown, a spokesman for a coalition of advocacy groups, said he was pleased with Slater’s bill but hopes to see it go further.
“We’re definitely happy the legislators are listening and taking what the coalition is saying seriously.”
Slater said he has spoken to House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi “multiple times on this issue. He’s never said he’s against adult use. He just would rather see a slower approach to it and make sure the state and taxpayers get a fair deal.”
Slater said his bill would give local communities about 2% more from marijuana sales than the other two proposals.
Slater said he expects a hearing on his bill in the next week or so.