PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A Pawtucket cannabis grower was officially selected Friday as the final winner of a medical marijuana dispensary license, after legal challenges prevented the sixth license from being awarded in a lottery six months ago.
Mother Earth Wellness, located at 125 Esten Ave., was the final applicant left standing in Zone 6, one of the six geographic areas from which the R.I. Department of Business Regulation selected the five other winners last October.
“We’re ready to move forward and give Rhode Island a first-class compassion center experience,” said Joe Pakuris, one of the owners. He said the dispensary is expected to open Oct. 1.
Mother Earth is already a licensed cultivator, and has been growing medical cannabis for about a year and a half, Pakuris said. (Its unique strains include “super orange soda” and “forbidden mints.”)
But with roughly 60 cultivators operating and only three dispensaries — all of which also grow their own — there’s been little opportunity so far for cultivators to sell their products.
“Everybody’s operating at a loss,” Pakuris said. “The cultivator base here in the state is ready to go, ready to supply medical cannabis and recreational cannabis.”
State lawmakers on Smith Hill have been debating legislation to legalize recreational marijuana legislation. The proposal currently under consideration would give the medical dispensaries — known in Rhode Island as compassion centers — the first chance at selling recreational cannabis.
Mother Earth has thus far sold its product to Summit Compassion Center in Warwick, Pakuris said. His grow operation will supply his new dispensary once it opens, and the compassion center will also purchase from other cultivators.
He said he does not expect the business to cause traffic issues in Pawtucket; customers will be able to pre-order, and the parking lot will have 100 spots. The property will have 24/7 security, Pakuris said.
When the state held the highly anticipated lottery for new licenses last October, Zone 6 wasn’t included, as one of the disqualified applicants — proposing a dispensary in Newport — was appealing its exclusion from the lottery. After that applicant dropped its challenge, yet another Zone 6 applicant in East Providence got disqualified, and also appealed its exclusion.
The lottery could finally go forward after DBR ruled against the East Providence dispensary last week. But with only one applicant left standing, Mother Earth won by default.
“The Department of Business Regulation hereby deems Mother Earth Wellness, Ltd., as the selection applicant in Zone 6,” Matt Santacroce, the director of cannabis regulation, declared during a brief public Zoom event announcing the winner.
Despite having a six-month head start, it’s not clear how soon the other five selected dispensaries might be able to open.
Three of the five original lottery winners don’t have local zoning approvals, while a fourth can’t currently build on their original property because of wetlands.
The winners were given nine months from the date of the lottery to secure the final license, leaving them with about three months left to secure the proper approvals by late July and pay the $500,000 licensing fee. (Mother Earth has nine months from Friday.)
RMI Compassion Center in Woonsocket was denied a special use permit from the Woonsocket Zoning Board last month for its proposed dispensary in an old Payless shoe store on Diamond Hill Road. RMI is appealing the decision to R.I. Superior Court.
The selected winners in Cranston and South Kingstown, Solar Therapeutics and Plant Based Compassionate Care, also don’t have zoning approvals in their respective cities.
Green Wave Compassion Center in Foster is also facing difficulties. The location in its approved application was at 187 Danielson Pike, but president Chris Sands says they discovered wetlands on the property.
“Based on the strict timelines to open and the 6-7 month DEM process for wetland permits, we would have run out of time,” Sands said in an email. He said the company plans to submit a relocation application to DBR, requesting to move to a new location at 190 Danielson Pike.
It’s not yet clear if DBR will allow any businesses to relocate, or if they will extend the July deadline. Applicants had to have locations secured in order to be approved for the original lottery.
Santacroce said Friday none of the compassion centers have qualified for final licensure yet, and no decisions have been made about extending the deadline.
“Right now all options are on the table,” Santacroce said. “Our ultimate goal remains the expeditious licensure of six new compassion centers.”
Pakuris already has zoning approvals from Pawtucket, which is why he anticipates being able to open by October. The dispensary will be in the same building as his other business, Kitchen and Countertop of New England.
“Cabinets, countertops and cannabis. A one-top shop,” Pakuris joked.
Steph Machado (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.