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RI delays lottery for new medical marijuana dispensaries

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two years after state lawmakers approved an expansion of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program from three dispensaries to nine, the state is still months away from completing the process to randomly select the six new stores.

A lottery to pick six marijuana dispensaries for licensure, originally pegged for early 2021, is in a “holding pattern” until at least August after one of the applicants appealed being deemed not qualified to participate, according to Matthew Santacroce, chief of the Office of Cannabis Regulation.

The state also received zero bids in its search for a contractor to conduct the lottery, which was originally proposed by former Gov. Gina Raimondo as a way to impartially select which applicants will be allowed to open medical cannabis dispensaries, known in Rhode Island as compassion centers.

The lottery will instead be conducted by the Department of Business Regulation, Santacroce said, in public and likely with an analog — rather than computer-generated — system of randomly selecting the businesses.

After a four-month review of the 45 applications submitted by 28 applicants, state regulators deemed 41 of them met the qualifications to enter the lottery. (Organizations could submit multiple applications to increase their chances — one per geographic zone — but can ultimately only get one license even if picked from the lottery twice.)

But one of the denied applicants appealed the decision, delaying the lottery until the appeals process is completed.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll have a final determination sometime in the month of July, which will allow us to flip the switch and turn the lights on for a lottery hopefully that first week in August,” Santacroce said.

Documents provided by DBR through a public records request show the company that appealed is Atlas Enterprises Inc, which proposed a compassion center on J.T. Connell Highway in Newport.

The denial notice says the company didn’t provide evidence of zoning compliance in Newport, and notes that Newport currently has a city ordinance banning retail marijuana facilities.

It also faults the company for failing to disclose that former state Rep. Robert Flaherty, listed as the chair of the Atlas board, is also an interest holder in Ascend Rhode Island Compassion Center, another company that submitted an application. (Ascend was approved to enter the lottery.)

Atlas lists its only owner as Christopher McGoff of Silver Spring, Maryland, whose resumé says he is an author and columnist for Forbes and carries a government security clearance.

Flaherty filed a notice appealing the disqualification on May 3. He could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday. Another board member, attorney Philip Gasbarro who is also listed as the president of the company, declined to comment because of the ongoing proceeding.

The appeal hearing will be public, according to Pamela Toro, the associate director and chief legal counsel at DBR.

The other three denials were the Edward O. Hawkins Center in Pawtucket — proposed by former state Sen. Rhoda Perry, among others — Enlite RI Inc. and Livity Compassion Center. (Livity was denied in Zone 6 but qualified for a second application it submitted in Zone 1.)

Reached by phone, Perry said the Hawkins Center was disqualified due a zoning issue with the city of Pawtucket. She said there are no plans to appeal the decision. (Former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa had also been involved in this application, but resigned in January.)

Perry, 78, sponsored the original legislation to allow medical marijuana back in 2005, which was named after her nephew Edward Hawkins, who died as a young man.

“Good luck to everyone else who is still in the mix,” she added. “I think my nephew would’ve been proud.”

Directors of the other two disqualified compassion centers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Three of the four denials were in Zone 6, which includes most of the East Bay, Aquidneck Island, Pawtucket and Block Island. (A spokesperson said there was no specific reason for the concentration of denials in that zone.)

Santacroce did not go into detail about why each application was denied. Copies of the 45 applications were recently removed from DBR’s website.

“Generally speaking, what we were looking for was completeness and demonstrated compliance with local zoning and real estate requirements,” Santacroce said.

The procedural delay means the six new dispensaries likely won’t be licensed until the final quarter of this year, Santacroce said. He noted there has been a “sense of urgency” since he started on the job in January to get the expansion done, which took years to get approved by lawmakers in 2019.

Rhode Island has nearly 20,000 registered medical marijuana patients, according to an annual report from September 2020, and also allows medical cardholders from other states to shop here. But there have been just three compassion centers permitted to sell the product since lawmakers approved dispensaries in 2009, when there were just 1,176 patients.

Advocates pushed for the expansion of the number of compassion centers in part to create greater access and a variety in medicinal strains. The existing dispensaries are located in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth. They took in a combined $68 million in the last fiscal year, according to the Department of Revenue.

“Depending on the turnkey readiness of whoever gets picked from the lottery, I’m very confident and very hopeful that we’ll have at the very least a couple of these compassion centers opening their doors by the end of the calendar year to our patient population,” Santacroce said.

He said all six should be open around the first quarter of 2022. The companies officially have nine months after receiving their final license to get up and running.

DBR plans to randomly select one application from each of the six geographic zones.

Below is the list of applicants per zone that were deemed qualified to enter the lottery by state regulators.

Zone 1 (Burrillville, Cumberland, Glocester, North Smithfield, Smithfield, Woonsocket)

Livity Compassion Center

Medici Compassionate Care Center, Inc.

New Leaf Compassion Center Inc. (DBA Fine Fettle Dispensary)

Pinnacle Compassion Center Inc.

RMI Compassion Center Inc.

Zone 2 (Central Falls, Johnston, Lincoln, North Providence, Providence)

Ascend Rhode Island Compassion Center

Faded Minds, Inc.

Lucy Rozen Compassion Center

New Leaf Compassion Center Inc. (DBA Fine Fettle Dispensary)

Perfect Union-RI DBA Perfect Union

Pinnacle Compassion Center Inc.

Rhode Island Care Concepts Inc.

Rhode Island Compassion Center Inc.

Sanctuary Medicinals

Solar Therapeutics Rhode Island, Inc.

Zone 3 (Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich, and West Warwick)

Green Wave CC, Inc.

Rhode Island Compassion Center Inc.

Zone 4 (Cranston, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, Warwick)

Cann Cure Compassion, Inc.

Coastal Farms Wellness Center

Compassion Center of New England

Co-Op City I Inc.

Mammoth Health and Wellness

New Leaf Compassion Center Inc. (DBA Fine Fettle Dispensary)

Perfect Union-RI DBA Perfect Union

Rhode Island Care Concepts Inc.

Rhode Island Compassion Center Inc.

Solar Therapeutics Rhode Island, Inc.

The Winding Rhode Compassion Center, Inc.

Zone 5 (Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Narragansett, Richmond, South Kingstown, Westerly)

Coastal Compassion Center, Inc.

Compassion Center by Bonsai Inc.

Green Wave CC, Inc.

Mammoth Health and Wellness

N&N Associates DBA South County Compassion Center

Plant Based Compassionate Care Inc.

Rhode Island Care Concepts Inc.

Rhode Island Compassion Center Inc.

Solar Therapeutics Rhode Island, Inc.

The Winding Rhode Compassion Center, Inc.

Zone 6 (Barrington, Bristol, East Providence, Jamestown, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, New Shoreham, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Warren)

Mother Earth Wellness, Ltd.

New Leaf Compassion Center Inc. (DBA Fine Fettle Dispensary)

Rhode Island Care Concepts Inc.

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

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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