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12 things to know about RI’s growing medical marijuana industry


PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has proposed legalizing marijuana this year, but the pot industry has already been growing in the Ocean State for more than a decade.

So how much has the cannabis business evolved since medical marijuana was legalized in 2006?

Here’s an overview.

Big money, big growth
At the end of fiscal year 2017, sales of medical marijuana totaled $28.3 million. Last fiscal year, that number jumped by 36%, to $38.4 million. Projections show sales will grow to $52.6 million this year, another robust increase of about 37%. The projection would be a little less than Bristol’s annual budget and about three times the size of Central Falls’ budget. Can you name another industry that’s grown by 46% in a matter of two years? 

Ounces turn to tons
In 2017, 10,040 pounds of marijuana was sold by the state’s three compassion centers. Last year, the total blossomed by nearly 58%, with 15,818 pounds of harvested pot sold to licensed patients. That’s close to the weight of a helicopter or a school bus, and more than twice the weight of a female African elephant like Alice, Ginny and Kate at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Acres of growth
Eleven-and-a-half acres of cannabis would be the cumulative total if all 74 approved cultivator applicants reach their legal growing limits. Rhode Island’s pot is cultivated indoors, of course, but that’s almost the size of nine football fields.

Grows are concentrated in cities
Of the 74 approved cultivators, 28 of them are based in Warwick. Another 24 are in four other population-core communities: seven are in Providence, six each in West Warwick and Pawtucket, and five in Cranston. More than half of the state’s municipalities have none. According to the DBR, 41 of the 74 have their licenses to grow and 25 are currently cultivating their respective products.

Not always welcome
Welcome in Warwick does not mean welcome in other communities. Cann Cure is an approved applicant, but Hopkinton blocked the company’s proposal to grow in that town. Richmond granted a zoning certificate, potentially clearing the way for a 5,000-square-foot facility, according to the business’s attorney. Now, more than 350 residents have signed a petition vowing to convince the town to find a way to stop the project, insisting the industrial-style building does not belong in their rural Arcadia Road neighborhood. 

Grows of all sizes
State law includes five license classes, ranging from micro-grows, where 2,500 square feet of growing area is allowed, to Class D, which allows 15,001 to 20,000 square feet. Right now, there are approved applications for 17 Class A licenses (5,000 sf), 37 Class B (10,000 sf) and 20 micro. The application process is closed, for now.

Plenty of patients
According to the R.I. Department of Health, by the end of 2017, 28,266 medical marijuana patients were registered to consume the drug. That total also rose substantially, by about 21%, with 34,268 registered by the end of 2018. Cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, chronic pain and autism are now among the accepted ailments for medical marijuana treatment.

The state’s cut
The state of Rhode Island currently collects a surcharge from the three compassion centers, along with sales tax from consumers. In fiscal year 2017, those two items totaled $3.1 million in revenue, with about two-thirds of that from sales tax. In 2018, the sum climbed to $4.2 million. That’s a significant amount of revenue, even in a state with an annual budget closing in on $10 billion.

Don’t forget the fees
A 21% increase in the number of patients added to what the health department collects in applications, renewals, replacement cards and other fees: just over a half-million dollars was paid by consumers in 2017. That total grew by a stunning 81% last year, to more than $900,000.

Too high?
One anonymous caller told Target 12, “the state’s fees are outrageous.” He suggested some patients save money by purchasing cards from other states that have less expensive fees. He further insisted they use the out-of-state cards to buy the drug in Rhode Island’s compassion centers to avoid the annual licensing charges.

Hope for more … revenue
Governor Raimondo included an article in her most recent budget proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use, projecting $4.9 million in new revenue in fiscal year 2020. A qualified adult would be allowed to purchase up to one ounce per day and possess up to five ounces at their home. If you want to follow this process, keep an eye on Article 20, which is expected to be looked at by the House Finance Committee in the coming weeks. State Rep. Scott Slater, a Providence Democrat, plans on submitting legislation to legalize recreational use.

The state studied legalizing recreational pot … sort of
A House-Senate commission to study legalizing marijuana was set up in 2017, co-chaired by a legalization opponent, Rep. Dennis Canario, and supporter, Sen. Josh Miller. The group met four times last year and heard testimony on both sides of the issue. But the two sides were so far apart, they neither reached a consensus nor compiled a report on their findings. The commission was renewed for the current session, but there are currently no plans to meet in 2019.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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