PROVIDENCE — For more than a decade, Senator Joshua Miller has been advocating the legalization of recreational marijuana in Rhode Island, and on Wednesday that moment had finally arrived.
Television camera crews were set up on the sun-splashed south steps of the State House, focused on the table where Governor Daniel J. McKee would put pen to parchment to sign the Rhode Island Cannabis Act.
Miller, a Cranston Democrat, stepped to the podium to talk about the legislation that he and Representative Scott A. Slater, a Providence Democrat, had introduced, amended, and shepherded to passage.
But then he went off script.
He noted that when the Senate had passed the marijuana bill on Tuesday, he had said, “There is much to be done this session and in the future that is overdue and urgent and potentially more impactful than this bill before you now, but every effort has a moment in time when we can agree to move forward.”
As he stood outside the State House on Wednesday, he said, “I didn’t not know children were being gunned down in Texas as I said that.”
“Stop the prayers,” Miller said. “Gun safety legislation needs action.”
He called for action in the name of those killed in Uvalde, Texas, those killed in Newtown, Connecticut, and those killed in Parkland, Florida. He called for action in the name of children in Rhode Island.
“It’s urgent, overdue, and more impactful,” Miller said. “Enough. The moment in time for these gun safety bills is now.”
Miller, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, called for action on a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines, a bill that would ban assault-style weapons, a bill that would require safe storage of weapons, a bill that would ban carrying loaded rifles or shotguns in public, and a bill that would raise the minimum age for buying firearms or ammunition from 18 to 21.
He spoke hours after McKee, a Democrat, had issued a statement calling for the General Assembly to pass bills to ban high-capacity magazines and assault rifles.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, McKee noted this his signature made Rhode Island the 19th state to legalize recreational marijuana, joining states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“The bill I sign today into law ensures that legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” he said. “Those were the three things that were very important to all of us when we were negotiating this final agreement, as Rhode Island begins this new chapter.”
On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association had warned that the legislation had “several public health and safety holes” that “could result in immediate detrimental effects for Rhode Islanders.” But McKee said the legislation creates “a framework for common sense regulation, with a strong emphasis on public health and public safety.”
The governor also noted that the new law creates a mechanism for automatic expungement of past marijuana possession convictions. “This was something that our administration included in my initial proposals with the General Assembly,” he said. “And I thank them for including it in the final product.”
Slater, who introduced the House version of the bill, said he, too, has been working on this proposal for more than a decade. He is the son of the late Representative Thomas C. Slater, who sponsored the medical marijuana act and who died in 2009.
Slater recalled that his father was sick for six years with cancer, and medical marijuana helped relieved his pain. He said medical marijuana has helped many people in Rhode Island.
“I think he would be very proud of me, actually, following in his footsteps and pushing important legislation,” Slater said of his father. “I think this is a good, sensible piece of legislation to ensure that adults have safe access to cannabis.”