Marijuana is legal for adults and is taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol; state also has a medical marijuana law
Last update: July 12, 2023
Adult-use legalization rollout continues with appointment of new Cannabis Control Commission and past convictions expunged
As the 2023 legislative session came to a close in June, policymakers finalized a key component of the adult-use cannabis legalization law adopted last year. Gov. Dan McKee’s three nominees to head the newly-established Cannabis Control Commission, which is appointed to oversee and regulate all aspects of the cannabis industry in the state, were each approved by the Rhode Island Senate.
The Cannabis Control Commission is tasked with creating a social equity policy and issuing cannabis retail businesses licenses (and new cultivation licenses after a two-year moratorium is lifted). Among the new retail licenses, a quarter are reserved for approved social equity applicants and another quarter are for worker-owned cooperatives. The Commission met for the first time on June 29.
Another important component of the legalization law is also now taking effect. In the spring of this year, the Rhode Island Judiciary branch announced that over 23,000 convictions for cannabis convictions had been expunged. Another round of cannabis expungements that involved more complicated cases with multiple charges are expected by the summer of next year.
Adult-use cannabis sales begin after lawmakers approve 2022 legalization law
Rhode Island became the 19th state to end cannabis prohibition when lawmakers approved a legalization law in May 2022. Starting in December 2022, adults in Rhode Island may now purchase cannabis from one of five dispensaries across the state. Over the course of the next year, the state is expected to issue licenses for an additional 28 dispensaries, including a portion reserved for social equity applicants and worker-owned cooperatives. The market is supplied by nearly 70 existing medical cannabis cultivators who are permitted to sell products to adult-use cannabis businesses.
At the time of this update, Gov. Dan McKee, who was elected for a four-year term in the November 2022 election, has not yet appointed the three-member Cannabis Control Commission who will oversee the regulatory system governing the adult-use cannabis market in Rhode Island.
Sometime in 2023, the Rhode Island Judiciary and Attorney General’s office are expected to report their progress in implementing a provision in the 2022 legalization law that requires the automatic expungement of low-level cannabis possession convictions.
Rhode Island becomes 19th state to legalize cannabis for adults
After a 32-6 vote in the Rhode Island Senate and a 55-16 vote in the House, Gov. Dan McKee signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis in Rhode Island on May 25, immediately legalizing possession of up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivation of up to three cannabis plants in a private residence for adults 21 and older.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater and Sen. Josh Miller, establishes a timeline to establish a legal cannabis market overseen by a new regulatory commission. Members will be appointed by the governor with input from leaders of the General Assembly. Existing medical cannabis establishments will be permitted to obtain hybrid adult-use licenses later this year, and sales are slated to begin in December.
The amended legislation was praised by local social justice organizations for its inclusion of a policy to automatically clear criminal records for misdemeanor and felony possession convictions over the next two years. Recent changes to the proposal also include the elimination of fees for medical cannabis patients. A comprehensive summary of the legislation can be found here, while the full text of the measure can be found here.
Passage of the legislation represents the culmination of organizing and lobbying efforts led by MPP, which has worked with lawmakers and a broad coalition of advocates to build support for legalization in Rhode Island over the past several years.
Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager for MPP, said:
“After years of persistent advocacy by organizations and supporters across the state, lawmakers have enacted a well-crafted cannabis legalization law that will create new opportunities for Rhode Islanders and begin the process of addressing decades of harm caused by prohibition. There is more work to be done to ensure that the full promise and potential of this legislation is achieved, but today is a day for us to celebrate and recognize that the hard work of organizing and educating eventually pays off. I’m grateful to the many volunteers, organizations, lawmakers, and government staff who put countless hours into making this a reality.”
Possession of small amounts is decriminalized: Possession of an ounce or less of cannabis 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 cannabis is permitted: An individual may register as a medical cannabis 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
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 cannabis patient is permitted to cultivate up to 12 immature, non-flowering cannabis 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 cannabis products from three state-licensed dispensaries known as compassion centers. A patient may also appoint a caregiver to cultivate and provide medical cannabis.
Timeline of cannabis 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 cannabis law allowing state-licensed medical cannabis 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 cannabis.
2012 – Lawmakers approved the cannabis 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 cannabis 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 cannabis.
2017 – Lawmakers approved legislation to establish a 19-member study commission on cannabis legalization and its potential effects on the state.
2018 – Rhode Island Department of Health approved autism as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.
2019 – Governor signed budget tripling the number of compassion centers licenses from three to nine.
2020 – Governor introduces plan to legalize cannabis with state-run stores in her annual budget bill.
Earlier today, Gov. Dan McKee signed into law a bill that immediately makes possession and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis legal in Rhode Island! Rhode Island has officially become the 19th state to legalize cannabis for adults!