Legislative discussions on Gov. Raimondo's plan to legalize marijuana heat up

Last update: March 25, 2019


Earlier this year, Gov. Gina Raimondo introduced a plan to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adult use as well as amend Rhode Island’s existing medical marijuana and hemp laws. The legislation is included as part of Article 20 of her FY 2020 budget proposal. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate recently held hearings on an updated version of the budget article.

If adopted, the law would permit individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from licensed retail stores. The Department of Business Regulation would have broad authority to establish and maintain a regulated marketplace, and a 17 percent tax would be imposed on sales. Adults would not be allowed to cultivate marijuana in their homes. Read a detailed summary of the legislation here.

Officials working for Gov. Raimondo say they believe legal sales could begin by early 2020 under the plan. So far, the legislative reaction to the proposal has been mixed, and many expect there to be a robust discussion about amendments. Rhode Island’s legislative session typically ends in mid-to-late June.

If you live in Rhode Island, get involved and take action by contacting your state representative and senator. You can use MPP’s email tool to send your legislators a message.

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.