PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — From Barrington to Woonsocket, voters in 31 cities and towns are being asked in the Nov. 8 election whether or not cannabis businesses — including retail stores — should be allowed in their communities, now that recreational marijuana is legal in Rhode Island.

The question, as laid out in the Rhode Island Cannabis Act signed into law in May, is as follows: “Shall new cannabis related licenses for businesses involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and for the retail sale of adult recreational use cannabis be issued in the city (or town)?”

A vote to approve would allow cannabis businesses to be licensed in that town, while a vote to reject would ban them.

The municipalities that chose to put the question on the ballot are: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, West Greenwich, West Warwick, Woonsocket.

Towns and cities have to opt out of marijuana, not the other way around. So if a municipality chose not to put a referendum on the ballot in this election, that means cannabis stores will be allowed to open in that community.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the marijuana referendum and the status of cannabis stores in Rhode Island.

If I vote yes, will my town have a cannabis store?

Maybe, but it’s not guaranteed. The state law approved back in May allows for 33 stores statewide, including the existing medical dispensaries which can be approved to sell recreational cannabis as hybrid stores.

So with 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island, there can’t be a store in every community, unless the cap on the number of stores rises in the future.

There could also be more than one store in certain municipalities, including larger cities that have been friendly to cannabis businesses like Warwick and Providence.

Other than the medical dispensaries currently in the process of opening, there are no other specific proposed locations for future cannabis stores.

Voting in favor of the referendum will allow a business owner to propose a marijuana shop in your city or town in the future.

What are the financial impacts of voting to approve or reject?

The new state law legalizing marijuana created a new 3% local tax on recreational cannabis sales, which will go directly to the city or town where the marijuana is sold.

If voters ban cannabis stores in their town, they will forgo any tax revenue from the sale of the products from a potential future store.

The R.I. League of Cities and Towns unsuccessfully pushed for the tax to be spread to all municipalities, arguing the public safety impacts of cannabis will be felt by every community.

Wait, didn’t my town already ban cannabis?

Under the R.I. Cannabis Act, the only way to ban recreational cannabis stores from opening in a town is via a voter referendum on or before Nov. 8, 2022.

That means the decision by voters to either allow or ban the stores will replace any existing local laws prohibiting the retailers.

The Newport City Council, for example, voted last year to renew a ban on cannabis retailers in that city. But whether or not to allow the stores is now up to voters.

Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, who voted in favor of the ban on the City Council, says she hopes voters reject the stores in the referendum.

“They need a lot of parking and an easy traffic flow,” Napolitano said, expressing doubt that the cannabis stores would be proposed in the more affluent and picturesque areas of town, like Bellevue Avenue.

She’s concerned a marijuana shop would be proposed in the northern part of the city near the U.S. Naval Station, where she is seeking to attract “blue economy” businesses.

“If it is located in another area I don’t have any objection,” Napolitano said. “It’s just that I feel it wouldn’t be complementary to the type of development that we’re doing in Newport.”

Other voters in the East Bay expressed support for the referendum.

“The legislature decided to approve of the use of recreational marijuana, we might just as well have access and not have to go to Massachusetts,” said Kathy Wise, a Barrington voter.

“I think marijuana isn’t good for you, but neither is alcohol,” said Dennis Slonka, also of Barrington. “So if alcohol is a permitted drug, then I suppose marijuana should be too.” 

What if my town already has a medical marijuana dispensary?

The R.I. Cannabis Act says municipalities that are already home to a compassion center — Rhode Island’s name for a medical dispensary — cannot hold a voter referendum to ban the stores.

Those dispensaries are currently open in Providence, Warwick, Portsmouth, Central Falls and South Kingstown.

South Kingstown is the only one of those five that has the marijuana question on the Nov. 8 ballot, despite the fact that Sweetspot Dispensary opened in that town in June.

Asked about the legality of the ballot question, South Kingstown’s town solicitor Michael Ursillo said he believes this is a “grey area.”

Ursillo cited the fact that Sweetspot, despite being a state-licensed compassion center, is a delivery-only facility. The storefront in South Kingstown is open to customers to consult about the products, which are later delivered to the customer’s home from a cultivation facility in Warwick.

The store was unable to sell cannabis directly on the premises without special zoning approvals from the town.

“Our position is that since the product or products cannot be picked up or delivered from that location, the referendum can go forward,” Ursillo told Target 12. “It’s a grey enough area that I’m comfortable.”

When will cannabis sales start, and where?

The first recreational cannabis sales in Rhode Island will be at existing medical dispensaries, which are currently in the process of applying for $125,000 hybrid licenses to sell both medical and adult-use cannabis starting December 1.

That includes the original three dispensaries that have been open for years now: Slater Compassion Center in Providence, Summit Compassion Center in Warwick and Greenleaf Compassion Center in Portsmouth.

Rhode Island also recently awarded six new provisional licenses for new compassion centers that were picked out of a lottery last year, all but two of which are expected to be open this winter.

Two of the new dispensaries, Sweetspot in South Kingstown and Aura Rhode Island in Central Falls, are now open. A third, Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket, is expected to open later this month.

Solar Therapeutics, a proposed compassion center in Cranston, was recently granted permission by state regulators at the Department of Business Regulation to move locations to 65 Meadow Street in Warwick. The dispensary is expected to open in December or January, according to a company spokesperson. (The original location had a zoning issue due to its proximity to a park.)

The two remaining compassion centers picked from the lottery are in dispute. RMI Compassion Center, a proposed dispensary in Woonsocket, was denied a special use permit by the Woonsocket Zoning Board, and is currently appealing the decision to the R.I. Superior Court.

The final proposed dispensary, Green Wave Compassion Center in Foster, has had its conditional license revoked by the state after failing to meet the deadline to acquire a final license, according to the revocation notice.

Rhode Island’s cannabis director Matt Santacroce says the business has appealed the decision.

Green Wave’s president Chris Sands, who had previously said the business discovered wetlands on the property, told 12 News the company asked DBR to move to another location.

“Unlike other lottery-selected groups who were granted relocation requests and/or extension of time requests, we were treated differently and arbitrarily denied,” Sands said. The appeal process is ongoing.

When will more stores open?

The remaining stores, up to 33 total, will be licensed by a yet-to-be-formed new panel called the Cannabis Control Commission, which will oversee the cannabis industry.

Gov. Dan McKee has said he expects to nominate the three members of the commission as early as December, after which they will need to receive Senate confirmation.

The new commission will be tasked with creating new rules and regulations surrounding cannabis in 2023, including how exactly they will decide who will receive the coveted cannabis retail licenses.

The state previously used a random lottery system for medical dispensaries, but the commission could choose to use a merit-based system, a rolling application process, or some other selection method.

The commission is also required under the law to set aside some licenses for social equity applicants.

It’s not clear exactly when new stores would open, considering the new commission hasn’t yet been formed. But it is clear that the medical dispensaries will have a lengthy head-start on the recreational market.

Steph Machado ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.