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 included:

  • 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.

However, leaders in the House rejected almost all of the proposed changes in their final version of budget. Lawmakers instead increased the yearly licensing fee for dispensaries from $5,000 to $250,000, the highest annual fee for a marijuana business in any state.

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.

Rhode Island saw little progress on marijuana policy reform during the 2018 legislative session, which came to a close in June. In May, state Sen. Josh Miller introduced legislation, S 2895, to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adult use. After being referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, the bill was “held for further study” and did not receive a vote. Legislators opted to extend the study commission into 2019.