Current marijuana laws in Rhode Island
Last update: June 21, 2017
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
- 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.
Developments in the most recent legislative session: the fight for full legalization
Since 2012, when lawmakers approved Rhode Island’s marijuana decriminalization law, the primary goal of the marijuana policy reform movement has been passage of legislation to legalize and regulate the sale and production of marijuana for adult use. Unlike the eight other states that have legalized marijuana, Rhode Island does not have a citizen-initiated ballot referendum process. The most viable path to reform, therefore, is through the General Assembly, which holds an annual legislative session from January through June.
On the heels of the successful Yes on 4 campaign, which legalized marijuana for adults in Massachusetts, Regulate Rhode Island and its coalition partners began the 2017 legislative session with wind in their sails. A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling released in January 2017 found that 59% of Rhode Island voters supported regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol.
When Rep. Scott Slater and Sen. Josh Miller introduced legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana early in the legislative session, 25 members of the House of Representatives — a third of the entire chamber — signed on as co-sponsors, and an even greater proportion of senators co-sponsored the companion bill.
Around the same time, legalization opponents began advocating for the creation of a “study commission” as a way to delay a vote on the bill to establish a regulated marijuana market.
In March, Regulate Rhode Island published a report providing compelling data from states with legalization and making the case for passage of legalization in 2017. At the same time, local advocates ramped up their grassroots advocacy by urging supporters to contact their state legislators and call for a vote.
In April and May, the House and Senate Committees on Judiciary held hearings on the legalization bill. Public health professionals, former law enforcement officers, members of the business community, faith leaders, social justice advocates, and many others provided powerful testimony in support of the legislation. Here are a few videos of testimony from the House Committee on Judiciary hearing on April 11, 2017:
Rep. Scott Slater
Matthew Schweich, Director of State Campaigns for MPP
Jared Moffat, Rhode Island Political Director for MPP
Regulate Rhode Island and the Marijuana Policy Project organized a rally with nearly 200 supporters at the State House on May 16 to demand that leaders of the General Assembly allow a vote on the legalization proposal. Our champion in the Rhode Island Senate, Sen. Miller, told the audience, “I won’t give up on this until the last night of session.”
With time running short, Sen. Miller, Rep. Slater, and Regulate Rhode Island announced a compromise proposal in early June that would have legalized marijuana possession in 2018 and established a small advisory board to issue recommendations to the General Assembly for how to establish a regulated system of sales and production for marijuana.
Despite significant grassroots pressure throughout the session, at the time of this writing, it looks unlikely that the General Assembly will vote on the compromise proposal before time runs out in the legislative session. Lawmakers are, however, poised to approve the bill to establish 19-person study commission.
Refusing to legitimize a process intended to delay legalization, Regulate Rhode Island and its coalition partners announced they would not participate in the General Assembly’s study commission and instead plan to establish a separate marijuana policy working group to issue a report providing recommendations for how to regulate marijuana in order to propel momentum in the 2018 legislative session. The working group’s report is expected to be published in November or December 2017.
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.
- 2012 Marijuana decriminalization law (summary)
- The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act
- 2017 Adult Use Cannabis Act and Cannabis Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act
- 2017 Public Policy Polling poll results
- Department of Business Regulation medical marijuana regulations
- Department of Health medical marijuana regulations
- 2017 study commission legislation
- List of approved medical marijuana cultivator applicants