Rhode Island Legalizes Recreational Cannabis

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On May 25, 2022, Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee signed H 7593 and S 2430, known collectively as The Rhode Island Cannabis Act (The Act), effectively legalizing recreational cannabis in the state. The House and Senate had passed the bills less than 24-hours prior to Governor McKee’s signature.

The Act promises automatic expungement of past cannabis possession convictions by July 1, 2024. Retail sales will be permitted as of December 1, 2022; however, it is likely that many retail stores will be unable to open prior to that date. The state’s three existing medical cannabis dispensaries will become the first stores to offer recreational cannabis, followed by six others that are already in the works, and an additional 24 licenses that are waiting to be awarded. Cannabis sales will be taxed at a rate of 20%.

Residents in the state are immediately permitted to grow up to six plants at home, three of which can be mature. The Act permits possession of up to one ounce of cannabis in public, while possession of anything between one to two ounces is a civil violation. Residents can possess up to ten ounces of cannabis total at home.

How Are Employers Impacted?

The Act does not require workers’ compensation insurers or employers to reimburse individuals for costs associated with the use of medical cannabis. Employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical or recreational cannabis in the workplace. Additionally, they are not required to accommodate individuals being under the influence of cannabis in the workplace or the use of cannabis in any location while performing work, including remote work.

Employers can have drug and alcohol testing policies that prohibit the use or possession of cannabis in the workplace and/or prohibit working while being under the influence of cannabis. Employers can refuse to hire, discharge, discipline, or take adverse employment action against an individual because of their violation of a workplace policy or because they worked while under the influence of cannabis.

Unless use or possession of cannabis is prohibited pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, employers cannot fire or discipline an employee solely based on the employee’s private use of cannabis outside of the workplace as long as the employee does not work while under the influence of cannabis. This does not apply if:

•      The employer is a federal contractor or is subject to federal law/regulations where a failure to act would cause the employer to lose a monetary or licensing related benefit.

•      The employee has a job, occupation, or profession that is hazardous, dangerous, or essential to public welfare and safety. If this is the case, an employer may adopt and implement a policy prohibiting the use of cannabis within 24-hours prior to a scheduled work shift or assignment. Such positions shall include, but are not limited to, the following:

- Operation of an aircraft.

- Operation of a watercraft.

- Operation of heavy equipment.

- Operation of heavy machinery.

- Operation of commercial vehicles.

- Operation of school buses or public transportation.

- The use of explosives.

- Public safety-first responder jobs.

- Emergency and surgical medical personnel.

Next Steps

Employers with operations in Rhode Island should immediately review and update their workplace drug and alcohol testing policies to ensure compliance. DISA Global Solutions’ professionals can assist you with building and maintaining a policy that’s custom to your company’s needs.

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Founded in 1986, DISA is the industry-leading provider of employee screening and compliance services. Headquartered in Houston, with more than 30 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, DISA’s comprehensive scope of services includes drug and alcohol testing, background check, occupational health, and transportation compliance. DISA assists employers in making informed staffing decisions while building a culture of safety in their workplace.