By Michael Ryan | Rhode Islanders will have to wait at least another year for lawmakers to consider legalizing recreational marijuana. However, in the closing weeks of the 2019 legislative session, the General Assembly approved a series of changes to Rhode Island’s current medical marijuana program.

Notably, the legislature tripled the number of authorized compassion centers – i.e. medical marijuana dispensaries – from three to nine. For the first time since the three existing compassion centers were approved, Rhode Island will re-open the compassion center license application process in the coming months.

Other notable changes to the state’s medical marijuana statute are summarized below.

In addition to increasing the number of authorized compassion center licenses, the legislation maintains compassion centers’ existing authority to cultivate marijuana. The licensed cultivator community had hoped that any newly authorized compassion centers would be “retail-only” operations.

The new legislation also:

• Expressly prohibits the establishment of “medical marijuana emporiums” – establishments where patient-to-patient sales or transfers could occur.
• Increases the application fee for compassion center licenses has been increased from $250 to $10,000.
• Increases the license fee for compassion centers has increased from $5,000 to $500,000. (Note: The existing license renewal fee of $250,000 has also increased to $500,000.)
• Provides the Department of Business Regulation (DBR) with enhanced authority to crack down on unlicensed medical marijuana activity.
• Creates a process where existing licensed cultivators can “merge” their cultivator license into a compassion center license.
• Provides new protections for employers who penalize employees that perform tasks while under the influence of marijuana in the workplace.

As the business of marijuana evolves, there will undoubtedly be a wide array of legal implications for both employers and employees.

If you are interested in learning more about these updates to the medical marijuana program or the pending DBR licensing process, contact Daniel P. Connors and Michael F. Ryan, Jr.

Michael Ryan, Jr. is an Associate with Duffy & Sweeney and is part of the DS Government Strategies team. Dan Connors is Senior Counsel for Duffy & Sweeney and leads the DS Government Strategies team.