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When it comes to news, all too often it is the nation’s larger and more populous states that tend to attract the most attention. California, New York, Texas, Illinois: All of the bigger states in the country tend to receive the largest amount of media coverage and attention. The difference in attention, however, should not imply that the larger states are the only ones in which valuable and consequential strides are being made, both on the political front and elsewhere. This is particularly true of cannabis law: Often times it is the less-populated states, such as Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska, that have made the farthest strides towards realizing full legalization. Another example of this phenomenon is Rhode Island. 

 

Medical legalization

While enjoying its status as the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island is nonetheless slowly but surely building a future with medical cannabis that will have implications for thousands of patients for many years to come.

The Ocean State first legalized the use, possession, and cultivation of medical cannabis in 2006. The 59-13 vote by the state legislature overrode the threat of a veto from then-Governor Donald Carcieriand made Rhode Island the 11th state in the nation to legalize the substance.

The legalization bill, dubbed ‘The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act’, established a framework in which patient cardholders may possess up to two and a half ounces of medical cannabis.

Patients may also cultivate up to 12 plants and 12 seedlings, provided that they meet certain conditions in the cultivation process.

The law allowed for multiple medical conditions to qualify for medical cannabis, including cancer, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain, among several others. Earlier this year, Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed a bill adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions.

Rhode Island: looking to the future

Rhode Island has seen a growth over the past several years in the number of patients currently approved for the use of medical cannabis.

As of July of this year, a total of 14,693 patients had been approved for cannabis cards, with an additional 2,904 cleared to operate as cultivators. (Cultivators are known in Rhode Island as “caregivers,” and dispensaries are known as “compassion centers.”)

The law allows for no more than three compassion centers statewide, all of which are currently up and running. Patient numbers have steadily increased since the state began opening compassion centers two years ago, which has proven challenging for state administrators constantly having to tend to the backlog of applications.

Yet while applications have been up in the two years since the state’s compassion centers first opened, recent findings indicate that revenues from taxes on cannabis are lower than expected.

According to dispensaries, this may be attributable to the fact that many caregivers are able to grow domestically without paying state taxes. Despite the overall low levels of revenue, however, the Rhode Island Division of Taxation has indicated that the numbers are slowly but surely climbing.

Efforts to pass recreational cannabis in the state have been attempted but the goal remains elusive for now.

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