Marijuana is legal for medical and recreational purposes in Rhode Island. The state legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2006, while in 2022, it joined the list of other states that have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes.
The legalization of medical marijuana in Rhode Island established the state's Medical Marijuana Program under the supervision of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH). Under the Rhode Island medical marijuana law, patients with certain qualifying medical conditions must obtain medical marijuana cards to have legal access to medical marijuana. Registered patients may purchase up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana from authorized compassion centers (dispensaries) but must present their medical marijuana cards. Patients and their caregivers may also grow up to 12 mature marijuana plants and 12 immature marijuana plants at home if they have valid medical marijuana plant tag certificates.
Under the Rhode Island recreational medical law, adults 21 years or older can legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes. Rhode Island recreational marijuana law also permits adults 21 years and over to grow up to six marijuana plants, with a maximum of three mature plants at a time. Compassion centers that previously only sold medical cannabis are now authorized to sell marijuana for recreational purposes.
Medical marijuana in Rhode Island is subject to a 7% sales tax and a 4% compassion center surcharge. According to medical pot sales news by the Providence Journal in July 2020, dispensaries in Rhode Island sold an estimated $53.5 million worth of medical cannabis in the fiscal year 2019 (7/1/2018-6/30/2019). For the fiscal year 2020, those dispensaries sold about $59.7 million worth of medical marijuana.
According to the state's Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) industry and program data obtained from the Department of Business Regulation (DBR), dispensaries in Rhode Island generated approximately $98.8 million in medical marijuana sales in the fiscal year 2021. For the fiscal year 2022 (7/1/2021-6/30/2022), Rhode Island medical cannabis dispensaries sold almost $80 million worth of medical marijuana.
Sales of recreational cannabis may not begin in Rhode Island until late 2022, following the legalization of recreational marijuana in May 2022. The state is expected to issue licenses for additional dispensaries to cover the anticipated surge in demand for cannabis.
Recreational cannabis in Rhode Island is subject to a 3% local excise tax, a 10% state excise tax, and a 7% sales tax. The jobs created by recreational cannabis legalization in the state include cultivation, retail, construction, tourism, and ancillary businesses. The Marijuana Policy Project has estimated that marijuana consumption by Rhode Island residents alone would generate about $58 million annually in sales and excise tax revenue. According to Governor Dan McKee of Rhode Island, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is a win for the statewide economy. The governor estimated that the annual revenue from marijuana is expected to generate at least $17 million annually beginning in FY 2023.
Medical cannabis became legal in Rhode Island in 2006, but fair sales did not begin until 2009, when the DOH started licensing compassion centers to sell medical marijuana. According to the crime data report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), law enforcement made 2,005 arrests for marijuana possession and 152 marijuana sales in Rhode Island in 2006. In 2007, the number of marijuana possession arrests declined to 1,901, but marijuana sales arrests went up to 182.
When the legal sales of medical cannabis started in 2009, the FBI crime data indicated 2,438 marijuana possession arrests and 218 marijuana sales arrests. In 2010, law enforcement made 2,271 arrests for marijuana possession and 203 for marijuana sales in the state. According to the FBI crime data, the difference in the number of marijuana-related arrests made in Rhode Island between 2006 and 2012 was insignificant over those years. However, in 2013, there was a notable drop in marijuana-related arrests in the state. That year witnessed 703 arrests for marijuana possession and 153 for marijuana sales. These figures declined further in 2018 when law enforcement made 375 and 98 arrests for marijuana possession and sales, respectively.
In 2021, Rhode Island had 315 marijuana possession and 77 marijuana sales arrests, according to the FBI crime data. The trend of marijuana crimes in the state since medical marijuana legalization in 2006 has been somewhat downward. However, going by the rate of drug abuse in Rhode Island, the recent legalization of recreational cannabis in the state may push up the number of marijuana-related crimes. According to experts, recreational marijuana use in the state may lead to the use of other substances in the state.
In 1918, Rhode Island outlawed the sale of marijuana without a prescription. It was the first time the state banned cannabis sales. However, in January 2006, the Rhode Island Legislature passed the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act into law to legalize the medical use of cannabis. This made it the 11th state to legalize medical cannabis in the United States. With the passage of this Act, patients with a Rhode Island medical marijuana card could possess and use up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis. They may also grow up to 12 marijuana plants at home. Patients must be suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions to qualify for medical cannabis, and a physician certification must determine their eligibility. The state's Medical Marijuana Act directed the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation (DBR) and the Department of Health (DOR) to establish marijuana rules and regulations and to oversee patients' and caregivers' registration in the state's medical marijuana program.
Although Rhode Island legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2006, access to medical marijuana by patients was not readily possible until 2009. The state legislature enacted a bill in 2009 to amend the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, after which patients' access to medical marijuana became a little more possible. HB 16 created compassion centers, otherwise known as dispensaries, to sell medical marijuana to patients and caregivers registered in the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Program.
In response to threats from federal prosecutors in 2011, Governor Chafee, the state governor at that time, suspended the licensing of compassion centers. However, in 2012, licensing of compassion centers resumed after conducting background checks. The state also included additional plant limits to licensing requirements, and by 2013, the compassion centers in Rhode Island were fully serving registered patients. The state's General Assembly, in 2014, passed legislation permitting registered patients and caregivers to sell excess medical marijuana to compassion centers. The legislation also removed caps on cannabis cultivation for compassion centers. In 2016, Rhode Island added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to its list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis.
In 2016, several changes were made to the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Program. For instance, that year, the state included requirements for cannabis patients to disclose their cannabis cultivation sites. It also mandated patients and caregivers to obtain a medical marijuana tag for each medical marijuana plant they grow at home. Furthermore, marijuana cultivators were provided with a separate licensing category, a step that offered patients access to various improved products and drove down the high cost of medical marijuana. Additionally, the state made some reforms relating to cannabis dispensing. These included removing the requirement that patients designate only one dispensary as their source of medical cannabis, more stringent medical cannabis product testing, and inventory tracking.
Rhode Island made further improvements to its Medical Marijuana Program in 2018, including adding autism spectrum disorder to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. Also, it started the medical marijuana reciprocity, allowing out-of-state medical patients to obtain medical cannabis at licensed compassion centers. In 2020, Rhode Island expanded the number of licensed dispensaries to improve patient access to medical cannabis.
In March 2022, Rep. Scott Slatter and Sen. Josh Miller introduced a pair of identical bills, HB 7593 and SB 2430, to legalize recreational marijuana in Rhode Island. In May 2022, Governor Dan Mckee signed an amended version of both bills, which became the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 years and older. The Rhode Island Cannabis Act permits the possession and limited cultivation of marijuana by residents. The Act also made provisions for assistance to help constituents of disadvantaged communities participate in the state's legal cannabis market. Additionally, the Rhode Island Cannabis Act provided for social equity, like the automatic expungement of criminal records related to marijuana possession.
The Rhode Island Cannabis Act also established a new Cannabis Control Commission and an administrative Cannabis Office. It authorizes towns and cities in the state to regulate marijuana businesses within their borders in some aspects, including operating hours and zoning. However, they may only prohibit marijuana establishments if residents approve of such an ordinance through a referendum. Legal sales of recreational cannabis will likely begin later in December 2022.