Consequences of Getting a Medical Card in Rhode Island

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Benefits of Having a Medical Marijuana Card in Rhode Island

Having a medical marijuana card in Rhode Island comes with certain benefits including:

Legal Protection

Medical marijuana cardholders in Rhode Island are not subject to arrest for having or purchasing an amount of cannabis within the limits set by the state's Medical Marijuana Act. The Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act, Chapter 28.6, protects them from prosecution or penalty in any manner solely for the medical use of cannabis. Similarly, medical marijuana cardholders in the state who hold Plant Tag Certificates issued by the Office of Cannabis Regulation cannot be prosecuted for cultivating marijuana plants at home. However, they must not grow more than the state-approved limit for personal cultivation.

Although cannabis possession is legal for registered medical patients in Rhode Island, they must have their medical marijuana cards with them whenever they carry medical marijuana on their person. Otherwise, they may get into some run-ins with law enforcement. The state's medical marijuana law will not protect them from prosecution for carrying medical cannabis in public with no proof of registration with the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Program. The legal consequences include fines and jail terms, and the severity of these penalties depends on the amount of cannabis involved.

Lower Prices

In Rhode Island, the prices of medical cannabis products are lower than recreational marijuana products, primarily because the sale of adult-use marijuana products is subject to additional taxes. Medical cannabis sales are only subject to a 7% sales tax. On the other hand, in addition to the standard 7% sales and use tax, there is a 10% state excise tax and an additional 3% local excise tax charged on the sale of recreational cannabis products in Rhode Island.

Higher Purchase Limits

Holders of Rhode Island medical marijuana cards may purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. In contrast, recreational consumers are only eligible to purchase up to 1 ounce of cannabis per time.

Minimal Driving Restrictions

Registered medical marijuana patients with Rhode Island-issued medical cannabis cards are not at risk of being charged with marijuana DUI (driving under the influence) offenses. Although the state has a zero tolerance per se drugged driving law for marijuana and other controlled drugs, it made an exception for medical cannabis patients. In Rhode Island, a registered medical cannabis patient is not considered to be under the influence solely for having cannabis metabolites in their body system. This is not the case for recreational marijuana consumers. Any trace of marijuana metabolites in the body system of a driver who is not a medical cannabis patient in the state is charged as marijuana DUI.

While registered medical cannabis patients in Rhode Island will not be prosecuted for having traces of marijuana in their system while driving, they are prohibited from operating commercial vehicles. Under federal law, it is illegal for marijuana users, including medical cannabis patients, to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL).

Reasonable Employment Protections

In Rhode Island, no employer is allowed to discriminate against medical marijuana cardholders in the workplace solely based on their status as medical cannabis users. They cannot take any disciplinary action against their employees for the lawful use of marijuana outside of the office. As stipulated in Section 21-28.64(e) of the state's Medical Marijuana Act, no employer may refuse to hire an individual or penalize their employees just because they are Rhode Island medical marijuana cardholders. Unless an employer can prove that an employee has worked or is discharging their duty under the influence of cannabis, they may not terminate their appointment or take any disciplinary action against them. However, state law does not require employers to accommodate employees' use of medical marijuana in the workplace.

While employers must be mindful of the employment protections stipulated for employees who are Rhode Island-registered medical cannabis patients, the protections do not apply in the following instances:

  • If the employees handle job roles that are dangerous or essential to public health and safety
  • If the employer and the employees' labor union have collectively agreed to ban off-duty marijuana use
  • If the employer is a federal agency or a federal contractor that is subject to federal law, such that accommodating medical cannabis uses would cause the employer to lose a licensing-related benefit or monetary benefit. This is why medical cannabis patients cannot be federal employees in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act does not specifically mention pre-employment drug tests. However, the broad intent of the Act's employment provisions is to protect off-duty medical cannabis use. This suggests that pre-employment cannabis testing may no longer be required for job applicants unless the job functions are safety-sensitive roles.

Higher Cultivation Limits

Registered medical cannabis patients and recreational consumers in Rhode Island are permitted to cultivate marijuana for personal use under state law. However, medical marijuana cardholders enjoy higher cultivation limits compared to the state-approved cultivation limits for recreational users. While cannabis patients may grow up to 12 mature marijuana plants and 12 immature plants, adult-use marijuana consumers may cultivate no more than 3 mature and 3 immature cannabis plants. In Rhode Island, medical marijuana patients need to obtain marijuana plant tag certificates to be able to engage in the home cultivation of marijuana.

Access for Minors

It is illegal for anyone younger than 21 years to use or purchase cannabis in Rhode Island. However, minors under 18 years who qualify for cannabis treatment and have obtained medical marijuana cards can legally consume medical cannabis in the state. A patient under 18 must designate a custodial parent or their legal guardian as their primary caregiver to help them with medical cannabis purchase and administration.


Rhode Island accepts out-of-state medical marijuana cards. Similarly, medical marijuana cards issued in Rhode Island are recognized in many states that have medical cannabis reciprocity. They include Michigan, Arizona, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Utah, and Hawaii.

Downsides of Getting a Medical Marijuana Card in Rhode Island

Some of the disadvantages of getting a Rhode Island medical cannabis card are listed below:

Firearm Prohibition

While Rhode Island has no legislation preventing medical marijuana cardholders from owning firearms, having a gun as a medical cannabis patient violates federal law. The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GAC) prohibits unlawful users of controlled substances, including medical cannabis, from obtaining gun licenses or owning firearms and ammunition. No state law protects medical cannabis patients from prosecution under federal law if they are caught in possession of guns by federal law enforcement. Besides, through a General Order - 9D issued by the Rhode Island State Police in 2018, the agency bans medical marijuana use and possession by its sworn division members. This is a clear indication that it is unlawful for any medical cannabis patient in the state to possess or own a firearm.

Annual Renewal

One of the disadvantages of having a medical marijuana card in Rhode Island is that cardholders must renew their registrations with the state's Department of Health annually to keep their cards active. When a medical cannabis card is left to expire without renewal, the holder becomes exposed to marijuana possession-related penalties as stipulated in the state's medical cannabis law. Although medical cannabis patients are not required to pay any fee to renew their Rhode Island medical marijuana cards, they still have to bear the consultation fees charged by their medical providers.

During the renewal process, a cardholder must obtain a written certification from their physician confirming their need and eligibility for continued use of medical cannabis. This may sometimes be inconvenient for patients as the consultation with their healthcare providers must be in person. The state prohibits physicians from making marijuana recommendations via telehealth for initial or renewal applications for medical marijuana cards. Most healthcare providers in Rhode Island charge between $220 and $270 to evaluate patients and recommend them for medical marijuana treatment.

Federal Prohibitions

Medical marijuana cardholders in Rhode Island cannot seek federal employment as federal law prohibits federal agencies from hiring users of controlled substances. Regardless of the legal status of medical cannabis in the state, marijuana remains a controlled drug under federal statute. A federal employee who qualifies for medical cannabis treatment in Rhode Island will have to choose between getting a medical marijuana card and their job. They risk losing their appointment by obtaining a medical cannabis card.

Generally, it is illegal to possess or use medical marijuana on federal lands in Rhode Island despite the legal status of cannabis in the state. Anyone caught with any amount of cannabis on federal property, including national parks, federal court, national reserves, and national monuments, commits a federal offense punishable by harsh penalties. Likewise, it is illegal to use, possess, or cultivate medical marijuana on the premises of federally assisted housing in Rhode Island. In compliance with federal law, anyone living in a federally subsidized housing unit in the state may not be allowed to consume, keep, or cultivate marijuana there. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) advises owners of federally subsidized housing to deny admission to such housing units for marijuana users, including Rhode Island medical marijuana cardholders.

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