General Assembly considering multiple adult-use legalization proposals
Last update: March 30, 2021
Several of Rhode Island’s top political leaders have thrown their support behind legalizing cannabis for adults this year. In the Senate, longtime champion Sen. Josh Miller and Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey have introduced S 568. The legislation would establish a regulatory framework similar to Massachusetts’ legalization law. Adults would be allowed to possess and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis (with up to 10 ounces securely stored at home) and cultivate up to six plants. Read a comprehensive summary of the bill here.
Rhode Island’s new governor and former lieutenant governor, Dan McKee, who succeeded Gina Raimondo after she joined the Biden administration, has also proposed a legalization plan as part of his FY 2022 budget bill. You can see an overview of the governor’s legislation here.
On the House side, the new Speaker, Rep. Joseph Shekarchi, has indicated openness to legalization but has not taken a firm position yet.
MPP is working with local advocates and lawmakers to find common ground and ultimately craft a final version of legalization that incorporates strong social equity provisions and policies that enable all Rhode Islanders to benefit from the economic opportunities created by a legal cannabis market.
As talks around adult-use legalization proceed, the state’s medical cannabis program is also expanding, as the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation is moving forward with a lottery system to award six new licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries — known as compassion centers — to 28 prospective applicants.
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
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 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.
2020 – Governor introduces plan to legalize marijuana with state-run stores in her annual budget bill.