Rhode Island begins 2019 General Assembly session with pressure from neighboring states to legalize marijuana

Last update: January 7, 2019


After years of inaction, 2019 may finally be the year Rhode Island lawmakers take up the issue of ending marijuana prohibition. With more and more state-licensed marijuana retail stores opening just across the border in Massachusetts, and newly-elected Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut vowing to make adult-use legalization a top priority this year, top political leaders are feeling the pressure from neighboring states to reform Rhode Island’s marijuana laws.

In recent interviews, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has acknowledged that Rhode Island’s proximity to other states that are moving forward with legalization makes maintaining prohibition untenable. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D) has adopted a similar tone, acknowledging that Rhode Island will have to confront the reality of legalization in other states and not having the revenue to deal with it would be the “worst situation of all.” House Minority Leader, Rep. Blake Filippi (R), also recently expressed his support for legalizing marijuana.

Though these recent comments from political leaders are encouraging, lawmakers are far more likely to make legalization a top legislative priority in 2019 if they hear from their constituents. If you live in Rhode Island, use MPP’s email action system to send a message to your state representative and senator today!

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.