New marijuana rules released as RI gears up for more dispensaries

Politics - Government

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The final version of new medical marijuana regulations by Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration keeps in place a lottery system and geographic zones for issuing new marijuana dispensary licenses, but reverses course on an effort to limit how many patients a home-growing caregiver can help.

The 128 pages of regulations — which detail how the state’s Department of Business Regulation will license new compassion centers — were released Thursday after a power struggle over them between Raimondo and General Assembly leadership was resolved last month.

The new rules go into effect on March 25, and DBR expects to announce the application period for six new dispensaries — known as compassion centers — in the coming weeks.

The regulations make a few key changes from the draft version, released in November. That caused medical marijuana patients, growers and retailers to express concern at a public hearing in December.

One change is that patients with out-of-state marijuana cards who live in Rhode Island will continue to be able to buy medical cannabis here. The original proposal would have required the patient’s driver’s license to be from the same state as their medical marijuana card, blocking patients from electing to get a less expensive card from states like California.

Patients said Rhode Island’s requirement for a doctor’s visit to get a card can be onerous, since insurance companies typically don’t cover the visit because of the federal prohibition on marijuana.

The new rules also allow registered caregivers — who grow marijuana at home but are not patients — to continue to grow for up to five patients, reversing the original proposal to limit each caregiver to just one patient. The goal of the proposal was to decrease the amount of homegrowing and funnel patients to the compassion centers instead, but patients who use caregivers said the cost of cannabis at the retailers can be prohibitively high.

The regulations also ban the soon-to-be-licensed compassion centers from growing cannabis at first, until the state conducts a market demand study to “project the needs of qualifying patients.” After the study is done, the new compassion centers will be able to request permission to grow, according to the regulations.

The issue of whether the new compassion centers should be able to grow cannabis became a major issue at the State House earlier this year, after House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio introduced a bill in January to stop the Raimondo administration from blocking the centers from growing.

But Rhode Island’s cannabis cultivators — who are licensed by the state to grow marijuana but are not allowed to sell it to anyone but the compassion centers — said the bill would put them out of business, because the compassion centers would no longer need their products. The bill was ultimately amended to address the concerns.

Pending any additional legislation from the General Assembly, the new compassion center licenses will be given out using a lottery system, pulling one applicant from each of six geographic zones throughout the state.

A spokesperson for DBR said no one was available to discuss the new regulations after they were released Thursday afternoon.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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