PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Customers started lining up to buy recreational marijuana in Rhode Island on Thursday, a little more than six months after Gov. Dan McKee signed legislation permitting such sales to people 21 and older.
Five stores are currently allowed to sell recreational cannabis products, but the state could eventually have as many as 33 stores, according to the law. The stores authorized to open by the state Office of Cannabis Regulation so far are in Central Falls, Providence, Pawtucket, Portsmouth and Warwick. All five had already been selling medical marijuana.
“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” the Democratic governor said in a statement last week.
Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket normally opens at 8 a.m. but people were already waiting outside when it opened at 5 a.m. on Thursday, co-owner Joe Pakuris said. The store made its first recreational sale at 5:18 a.m.
The store had welcomed about 300 customers by mid-morning, about 80% of whom were recreational buyers, he said.
“We've had a very successful day," he said. “I think it has been a smooth transition and the state has done an excellent job of rolling out this program. Everything's great."
The law imposes a 10% state cannabis excise tax in addition to the 7% state sales tax and 3% local tax for the city or town in which the sale takes place. It's expected to generate about $15 million in tax revenues in the first full fiscal year of sales.
The law prohibits smoking or vaping cannabis products in any public place where smoking or vaping of tobacco products is prohibited, and anywhere where there is potential harm to children. People are also not allowed to operate a vehicle while under the influence of cannabis.
The legislation also provides for the expungement of any prior conviction for possession of cannabis that will be decriminalized.
About 20 states nationwide had approved recreational marijuana sales, including neighboring Massachusetts where it's been legal for about four years. In Connecticut, recreational pot has been legalized but sales are not expected to start until next year.
Not everyone is happy. State law enforcement agencies have expressed concern about the potential for more impaired motorists on the roads.