Legislative session ends; Gov. Raimondo signs state budget law, tripling compassion centers from three to nine

Last update: July 8, 2019


Shortly after the Rhode Island Legislature adjourned in late June, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) signed the FY 2020 budget into law. Among other minor changes to the existing medical marijuana and hemp laws, the final version included language to create six additional licenses for compassion centers, state-licensed facilities that produce and sell medical cannabis. 

A prior budget proposal from the governor’s office unveiled in January had included a plan to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adult use. Despite positive testimony from the Rhode Island State Police and the Department of Health — and polling showing a 19-point margin of support for legalization among state voters — Democratic House leadership ultimately removed legalization from the budget bill. 

Home cultivation for medical marijuana patients, social equity for people disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and fairness within the cannabis marketplace were also major topics of conversation within the General Assembly this year. Though the session was ultimately a frustrating one for advocates of sensible cannabis policies, the topic will continue to be a mainstay of legislative discussions for the foreseeable future. Many lawmakers understand that kicking the can down the road on legalization for adult use, especially as marijuana markets continue to burgeon in Massachusetts and elsewhere, is not a long-term solution.

While the General Assembly is adjourned, residents of Rhode Island should contact their state senator and representative to talk with them about the need for comprehensive and equitable cannabis policy reform. The 2020 session begins in early January. 

Marijuana laws in Rhode Island


Possession of small amounts is decriminalized: Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is a civil penalty punishable by a citation of $150 for the first offense. The fine increases if not paid in a timely manner. If an individual receives three citations within an 18-month period, the individual may be charged with a misdemeanor. Minors under the age of 18 are required to appear before family court and be evaluated for substance misuse disorder in addition to paying the $150 fine.

Medical marijuana permitted: An individual may register as a medical marijuana patient if his or her doctor certifies that the individual suffers from one or more of the following conditions:

  • cancer or the treatment of this 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 those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease
    • agitation related to Alzheimer's disease

Once registered, a medical marijuana patient is permitted to cultivate up to 12 immature, non-flowering marijuana plants and up to 12 mature, flowering plants, provided each plant has a valid “tag” issued by the Department of Business Regulation. Patients are allowed to purchase marijuana products from three state-licensed dispensaries known as compassion centers. A patient may also appoint a caregiver to cultivate and provide medical marijuana.

Timeline of marijuana policy reform in Rhode Island


2006 – The Rhode Island General Assembly overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri’s veto to enact the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act.

2009 – Lawmakers approved an amendment to the medical marijuana law allowing state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries (“compassion centers”).

2009 - The General Assembly approved legislation to establish the Special Senate Commission to Study the Effects of Marijuana Prohibition.

2010 – The Special Senate Commission to Study the Effects of Marijuana Prohibition met several times and issued a report recommending the decriminalization of possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

2012 – Lawmakers approved the marijuana decriminalization law, which went into effect on April 1, 2013.

2016 – Lawmakers approved the state budget, which made substantial reforms to Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program. Click here to read a summary of changes made by Article 14 of the Rhode Island FY 2017 budget.

2016 – Lawmakers approved legislation adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

2017 – Lawmakers approve legislation to establish a 19-member study commission on marijuana legalization and its potential effects on the state.

2018 – Rhode Island Department of Health approves autism as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

2019 – Governor signs budget tripling the number of compassion centers licenses from three to nine.