Rhode Island Marijuana Business Guide
Rhode Island officially decriminalized marijuana on April 1, 2013, when new regulations endorsed by Governor Lincoln Chafee last year went into effect. Residents caught carrying one ounce or less of pot will simply receive civil offense charge and a fine of $150. Possessing one ounce to one kilogram (35 ounces) of marijuana is a misdemeanor that could get you up to one year in jail and a $500 fine.
Felony charges (“intent to distribute”) are implemented if someone is found in possession of one to five kilograms of pot, including 10 years in prison and a fine of $500,000. Rhode Island’s decriminalized cultivation laws now allow residents to grow less than one kilogram without being charged with a felony. However, if you are caught growing more than one kilogram, you could be sent to prison for 30 years. Also under the new decriminalization laws, residents who are found driving while in possession of pot will have their driver’s license revoked for six months.
Medical Marijuana Laws
In 2006, the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act allowed Rhode Island residents diagnosed with chronic diseases to legally consume medical marijuana to treat their illness. Medical conditions qualifying people for identification cards that are required for the purpose of growing medical marijuana for personal use include:
- Hepatitis C
- Chronic pain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
In addition, people using medical marijuana need a written certificate from a qualified physician asserting that in the doctor’s opinion, “the potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for the qualifying patient”. Patients and caregivers (individuals who have been given permission by the Rhode Island Department of Health to cultivate medical marijuana for patients who are too incapacitated to do so by themselves) are permitted to have two and a half ounces of pot and/or up to 12 plants for the purpose of alleviating severe symptoms caused by a debilitating disease or disorder.
Compassion CentersRhode Island’s medical marijuana act also included an interesting statute regarding the establishment of “compassion centers” for distributing pot to qualified patients. Criteria for the establishment of these “compassion centers” involved regulatory licensing by the state’s Department of Health and strict guidelines maintaining the “not-for-profit” status of these cultivation/acquisition centers. In 2011, five years after legalizing medical marijuana, Governor Chafee suspended the operation of compassion centers due to “communications from the U.S. Department of Justice” concerning the potential for these dispensaries to become “targets for vigorous criminal enforcement by the federal government” because the distribution/cultivation system supporting these compassion centers remained illegal under federal law.
In 2012, Rhode Island’s House of Representative approved State Bill 2555, a bill that amended the ban on medical marijuana dispensaries by allowing “compassion centers” to possess no more than 1500 ounces of pot at one time. In addition, SB 2555 gave law enforcement the power to inspect compassion centers while also permitting state police to oversee dispensaries as members of the regulatory board.
On May 22, 2012, SB 2555 was signed by Governor Chafee which authorized regulators to provide licenses for three compassion centers to operate in Rhode Island. Medical marijuana dispensaries are currently allowed to have up to 150 plants growing in their facility (99 mature plants only). Up to 1500 ounces of “usable” medical pot is also permitted to be used as inventory in a licensed compassion center. Currently, one dispensary is operating in Providence, one in Portsmouth and another, The Summit Medical Compassion Center, has applied for a license and is expected to be operational by the end of the year.DOWNLOAD RHODE ISLANE STATE BILL 2555
The Future of Recreational Marijuana Sales in Rhode Island
Earlier in 2013, Rhode Island’s lawmakers discussed legislation regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana. House Bill 5724 proposes allowing residents over 21 years old to legally possess up to one ounce of pot for personal use only. Regulations governing the use of recreational marijuana would be similar to those governing alcohol use, with the bill imparting tax rules imitating those placed on the sale of beer, wine and alcohol.
Arguing for the implementation of legislation to legalize recreational marijuana is state Representative Edith Ajello, who asserts that society does not view pot as a “dangerous” drug anymore and that making it a crime to use pot has done nothing to prevent minors from easily accessing it.DOWNLOAD RI HOUSE BILL 5724
With recent surveys indicating that the majority of Rhode Islanders would approve of legalizing pot for recreational use, PotIntel.com speculates that Rhode Island will soon join the increasing number of states that are electing to legalize small amounts of pot for personal use. Additionally, Rhode Island will no doubt adopt regulations similar to those of Washington and Colorado concerning issuance of licenses to qualified individuals who wish to establish and operate retail pot shops in the state.
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