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Rhode Island

Cannabis Legalization in Rhode Island

Bottom Line:

Medical cannabis is legal for use across the state of Rhode Island, but all forms of recreational cannabis are illegal. Several attempts to introduce new recreational cannabis legislation have failed over recent years.

Rhode Island officially legalized medical cannabis in 2006, but has yet to relax the state’s policy on recreational cannabis. A number of propositions have been brought to the Rhode Island General Assembly – all of which have failed. However, a poll conducted in 2016 showed that around 55% of Rhode Island residents supported recreational cannabis legalization. In 2017, a similar poll determined the figure to be closer to 60%. However, the state of Rhode Island does not have a public ballot initiative process.

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When Was Medical Cannabis Legalized in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island officially legalized medical cannabis in 2006, becoming the eleventh state to permit the sale and use of medical marijuana. The legislation was passed the year before and was officially enacted in 2006. Attempts were made to veto the new legislation, though were subsequently overruled.

Under the terms of the legislation: "Approved Qualifying Debilitating Medical Conditions" for medical marijuana are: cancer, glaucoma, 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.

The legal cannabis dispensary network in Rhode Island became operational as of 2009, at which point just a handful of stores were legally entitled to sell medical cannabis. By 2016, close to 16,000 people had been issued with medical cannabis cards, though there were still only three dispensaries in operation.

How Can I Qualify for a Medical Cannabis Card?

Eligibility for a medical cannabis card is determined by way of a licensed physician’s diagnosis. The state of Rhode Island recognises a formal list of conditions as eligible for medical cannabis treatment, as outlined below:

  • cancer or the treatment of the condition
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • glaucoma or the treatment of this condition
  • positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or the treatment of this condition
  • acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or the treatment of this condition
  • hepatitis C or the treatment of this condition
  • autism
  • a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following:
    • cachexia or wasting syndrome
    • severe, debilitating, chronic pain
    • severe nausea
    • seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy
    • severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to the characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease
    • agitation related to Alzheimer's disease

It’s also possible for a doctor to recommend a patient for medical cannabis who doesn’t have one of these qualifying conditions. If the physician believes medical cannabis is an appropriate method of treatment, he or she can recommend it.

How Does the Process Work?

Your doctor will provide you with a formal medical cannabis recommendation, after which you will need to register for a cannabis ID online. There is a flat rate of $100 for the registration process – reduced to $25 for Medicaid recipients.

Is the Program Open to Children?

Yes, but only under the supervision and permission of a parent or legal guardian. Doctors are authorised to recommend medical cannabis for adults and children alike, if they believe it is suitable for their condition.

How Much Cannabis Can I Possess Legally?

Rhode Island has a relatively simple cannabis possession policy for registered users. All medical cannabis patients are permitted to have a maximum of 2.5 ounces of cannabis at any one time. However, this doesn’t include the cannabis they grow at home for personal use.

Is It Legal to Grow Medical Cannabis in Rhode Island?

If you have a medical cannabis card, you are legally entitled to grow your own marijuana. The state’s cultivation policy is also surprisingly generous – each patient is permitted to have up to 12 mature plants on their property at any one time. However, if there are multiple medical cannabis patients sharing the same home, the same limitation of 12 mature plants applies. In any case, this is around double the allowance of most medical cannabis states in North America.

What if I Don’t Have a Medical Cannabis Card?

All forms of recreational cannabis are illegal in Rhode Island, but the state decriminalized the possession of small quantities several years ago. A first offense where the total quantity of cannabis being carried is less than an ounce is punishable by a $150 citation. If three cannabis-related crimes are committed within the same 18-month period, it is considered a criminal offense. Anyone caught using cannabis under the age of 18 is required to appear before family court and will be evaluated for substance misuse disorder.

Can I Use My Out-of-State Cannabis ID in Rhode Island?

For the most part, the vast majority of cannabis permits from across the Unites States can be used in Rhode Island. This means that if you are travelling to Rhode Island and you bring your medical cannabis ID with you, you will be able to use it at any of the state’s licensed dispensaries.

Can a Medical Cannabis ID Be Revoked?

Unless there is evidence of abuse, there is no allowance for a physician to formally revoke a patient’s medical cannabis privileges. All medical cannabis IDs are valid for a period of two years, after which an application for renewal must be submitted. However, patients are required by law to update the Department of Health with any changes to their condition, which may affect their eligibility for medical cannabis access.

Isn’t Cannabis Illegal at a Federal Level?

Yes, which is why so many businesses and local authorities are hesitant to throw their weight behind the industry. Medical cannabis in all its forms is still technically illegal at a Federal level. Hence, anyone involved in the production, distribution or consumption of cannabis has committed a Federal offense. It’s highly unlikely that the US government will take action against any specific states for allowing medical or recreational cannabis to be used by its residents and/or visitors.

Can I Grow Cannabis for Someone Else?

If you are a registered caregiver, you can take control of cannabis procurement and cultivation on behalf of your patients. However, the same possession and cultivation limits apply – a maximum of 12 plants per household. It is illegal for anyone with a medical cannabis card to cultivate cannabis under any circumstances.

What If I don’t Have a Medical Cannabis Card?

There are no allowances for anyone without a medical cannabis ID to legally access cannabis of any kind. However, possession of small quantities of cannabis has been decriminalized and penalties have been relaxed significantly. For a first offense, possession of no more than 1oz is punishable by a $150 fine – quantities between 1oz and 1kg attach a fine of $500. Anyone caught with more than 1kg will be charged with intent to supply, which can be punished with anything from 10 years to life imprisonment.

How Many Dispensaries Will Open in Rhode Island?

No specific limitations have been placed on the number of cannabis dispensary licenses the state can issue. However, it is likely that the state’s medical cannabis dispensary network will remain compact for some time. In addition, medical cannabis card holders are restricted to the specific dispensary (or dispensaries) allocated by their doctor.

Will Rhode Island Legalize Recreational Cannabis?

The road to medical cannabis legalization in Rhode Island was rocky to say the least. Over recent years, several attempts to introduce new recreational cannabis legislation have failed. Nevertheless, polls have shown on multiple occasions that the people of Rhode Island support recreational cannabis legalization by a growing majority. In January 2020, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo introduced her annual budget bill. Similar to last year, the package includes legislation detailing a plan to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and older. Unlike the 2019 budget article, though, the new proposal would involve state-run retail stores and establish a Community Equity and Reinvestment Council to address the past decades of social harms caused by criminalization.

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