Supporters of Rhode Island's medical marijuana program introduce bill and call for reforms that put "patients over profits"

Last update: March 2, 2020


Backed by a new grassroots group, the Medical Marijuana Patients Coalition, Rep. Scott Slater (D) and Sen. Josh Miller (D) have introduced legislation to implement significant reforms to Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program.

The proposal would create a hardship program to reduce the cost of medical marijuana for patients who qualify as low-income. It would also dramatically reduce licensing fees for compassion centers, prohibit discrimination against patients by state agencies, and remove the ban on people with prior drug felonies from owning or operating a medical marijuana business. You can read a summary here.

The bill is largely based on recommendations in a report written by the MMPC in January of this year. The coalition includes two members of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana legislative oversight committee, which has held meetings and public hearings in recent years to assess issues within the program.

You can support these patients and the medical marijuana reform bill by taking action here!

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Governor introduces plan to legalize marijuana with state-run stores and equity council

In January, 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. You can read a comprehensive summary of the bill

There’s concern that a system of state-owned marijuana stores could put the legalization law on shaky ground, so long as marijuana remains federally banned. Similar models in states like Utah have never gotten off the ground due to these uncertainties. 

Disappointingly, leaders of the General Assembly continue to ignore the will of their constituents and have dismissed the prospect of legalizing marijuana for adults in 2020. But the inclusion of Article 13 in the governor’s budget means the legislature will have to find some way to fill a $20-million hole if they remove the legalization plan. 

Late last year, the Department of Business Regulation proposed new regulations for the state’s medical marijuana program, including a lottery system for awarding new compassion center licenses to qualified applicants. More details can be found here. Since last summer, the governor’s administration and the General Assembly have tussled over questions of which body is authorized to regulate key parts of the medical marijuana industry

Though it is difficult to predict what will happen in this year’s legislative session, the pressure to adopt adult-use legalization continues to mount as neighboring states move forward.

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 is 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 approved legislation to establish a 19-member study commission on marijuana legalization and its potential effects on the state.

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

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

2020Governor introduces plan to legalize marijuana with state-run stores in her annual budget bill.