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President-Elect Biden’s Pick for Commerce Secretary Wants Cannabis Sold in Government-Run Stores

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head up the US Department of Commerce in his incoming administration supported a state-run model for legal cannabis sales as governor of Rhode Island.

Gov. Gina Raimondo was announced in Biden’s cabinet as Commerce secretary and now awaits Senate confirmation. If she takes on the role, Raimondo will be tasked with navigating American businesses out of an economic crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

As governors in New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have noted, marijuana legalization could play an important part in a post-pandemic economic recovery. Unlike other governors, however, Raimondo sees an exclusive role for the government in a legal marijuana market.

In her budget proposal to the Rhode Island legislature last year, Gov. Raimondo pushed for a state-run marijuana program instead of the privatized commercial market seen in every other state that has legalized cannabis.

“This legalization takes the form of a state-control model, similar to how liquor sales are regulated in New Hampshire and over a dozen states,” her budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 reads. “This regulatory approach will allow the state to control distribution, prevent youth consumption, and protect public health.”

Raimondo was previously reluctant to support legalizing cannabis but came to see it as an inevitability as more and more states across the Northeast adopted the measure. In 2019, she joined with neighboring state governors to discuss the possibility of harmonizing approaches toward marijuana legalization. She also proposed legalizing cannabis through her state budget proposal that year, but opted for a commercial model.

Just last month, Raimondo reiterated her support for a state-run model of legal marijuana.

“My view: it is only a matter of time,” said Raimondo to The Providence Journal. “I think we should do it. Yes, I support the state-run model because from all the work we have done it is the most controlled way to do it, arguably the safest, and the way to maximize state revenue.”

While Raimondo awaits confirmation as President-elect Biden’s Commerce secretary, she’s indicated she’ll once again pursue marijuana legalization in Rhode Island in her budget proposal for fiscal year 2022. Her Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee would step in as governor if Raimondo vacates her position, and while he’s less receptive to legalizing cannabis he supports medical marijuana and decriminalization. Whoever is in post as Rhode Island governor must submit their budget request to the legislature by March.

While it’s too early to speculate what influence Raimondo might have on the incoming administration’s marijuana policy, she’s yet another nominee to the cabinet that appears more open to comprehensive federal cannabis reform than Biden. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra supports cannabis legalization and was recently selected to front the Department of Health and Human Services, while former prosecutor and civil rights activist Vanita Gupta – a supporter of marijuana legalization – was nominated as associate attorney general. Judge Merrick Garland is the current front runner for attorney general and while he’s no outspoken advocate of federal marijuana reform, he’s also never publicly indicated opposition to such a move.

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