PROVIDENCE — Thirty-one of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns will ask voters whether to allow the sale or cultivation of recreational marijuana within their borders, the secretary of state’s office reported Wednesday.
In those communities, the Nov. 8 ballot will ask: “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 (that municipality)”?
Cities and towns had until 4 p.m. Wednesday to file certified ballot questions with the secretary of state’s office, and the following municipalities scheduled votes on recreational cannabis sales: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham (Block Island), North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, West Greenwich, West Warwick, and Woonsocket.
So the communities that won’t hold marijuana votes are Central Falls, Cranston, Exeter, Foster, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, and Warwick. That list includes the state’s largest cities, and municipalities cannot opt out if they already host licensed medical cannabis treatment centers.
“It is an important issue,” said Ernest Almonte, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. “Some of them might feel it’s so important an issue that they should put it out to the voters, and others might have had a strong pulse of the community.”
Almonte said he suspects that voters in most communities will approve the sale or cultivation of recreational marijuana.
“Times have changed, and people’s feelings on it have changed,” he said. “It will have impact on cities and towns whether you pass it or not because people won’t stop at the border.”
In May, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to make Rhode Island the nineteenth state to legalize recreational marijuana. Massachusetts and Connecticut had already legalized recreational marijuana, and 38 states, including Rhode Island, had legislation that allows for the medical use of cannabis, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
Under the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, cities and towns would have to hold referendums asking voters if they want to opt out from the bills to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.
If the voters decide the answer is “no,” those cities and towns would not be eligible for any of the revenue derived from marijuana sales. The legislation applies a 3 percent local excise tax to all marijuana purchases.
The legislation allows up to 33 retail licenses distributed in six zones statewide, including nine compassion centers that could be hybrid recreational and medical retailers.
The wealthy suburb of Barrington was the first Rhode Island town to schedule a November vote on whether to allow recreational marijuana to be sold or cultivated within its borders. On June 6, the Town Council voted 3 to 2 to place the question before voters.
When Massachusetts first allowed recreational marijuana sales in 2018, at least 189 of the state’s 351 municipalities barred retail marijuana stores and, in most cases, cultivation facilities and other cannabis operations. At the time, 59 of the local bans were indefinite, while 130 were temporary moratoriums designed to buy local officials time to set up marijuana zoning rules.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.