In 2006 Rhode Island legalized medical cannabis, becoming the eleventh state to do so.

Under Rhode Island law, “Approved Qualifying Debilitating Medical Conditions” for medical cannabis are: cancer, glacoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, or a “chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following”: cachexia (wasting syndrome); “severe, debilitating, chronic pain”; “severe nausea”; epilepsy or other seizures; “severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease”; and Alzheimer’s disease-related agitation.

In June 2009, Rhode Island introduced a cannabis dispensary system, making them the second state nationwide (after California) to do so.

In October 2016 the emergency regulations were issued to get a new category of private cannabis growers, called cultivators, up and running as quickly as possible.

Cultivator licenses are divided into the following categories:

  • Micro-license 0 – 2,500 sq. ft.
  • Class A 2,500 – 5000 sq. ft.
  • Class B 5,001 – 10,000 sq. ft.
  • Class C 10,001 – 15,000 sq. ft.
  • Class D 15,001 – 20,000 sq. ft.

Cultivators should replace patient caregivers as vital suppliers for the state’s three dispensaries, which currently aren’t producing all the various strains of the plant needed for the state’s more than 19,000 patients.

There are now 2,820 private growers in Rhode Island. Depending on the size of their grow area, cultivators will initially be allowed to grow as many as 500 plants and have as much as 10 pounds of usable cannabis on hand — the equivalent worth at least $21,000. Any usable cannabis that cultivators produce that is not fulfilling a contract with a dispensary will have 30 days to be sold or must be destroyed.

Eventually, the plant count will be unlimited, provided that all plants are properly tracked in a forthcoming “seed-to-sale” inventory tracking system administered by the state.

The annual licensing fee for each cultivator: $20,000 to $80,000 depending on the size of the operation. For the first year, the state will only accept applications for operations of up to 10,000 square feet with an annual licensing fee of $35,000. To apply will cost another $5,000. It’s nonrefundable.

Licensed cultivator applications were accepted for consideration through April 30, 2017, however the application period is reopened each subsequent year during the months of January, February, and March.

Rhode Island’s governor’s $9.4 billion state budget plan for the 2019 fiscal year includes:

  • Establishing 15 more medical cannabis dispensaries.
  • Adding acute pain to the list of qualifying conditions.
  • Allowing Massachusetts and Connecticut cardholders to buy medical cannabis in Rhode Island.

The governor wants to increase the number of dispensaries from three in order to provide more patient access to medical cannabis and because she projects a $5.1 million increase in revenue from such a move.

Recreational Cannabis

Rhode Island lawmakers announced in January 2017 that they will try to legalize a recreational cannabis. It would be the ninth state to legalize consumption for adults 21 and older, as well as the first state to do so through the legislature rather than the ballot box.

Marijuana legalization advocates are planning to introduce a scaled-back version of their legislation that would legalize the drug next year but put the brakes on immediate plans for retail stores.

While the previous version of the bill called for legalizing the drug immediately, the new proposal calls for taking that step in July 2018 when recreational pot shops are slated to open in Massachusetts. In the interim, a six-person Cannabis Advisory Board would be established to study how the state should go about creating a recreational marijuana market.