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Rhode Island Wants to Expand Medical Cannabis Access to Patients in Massachusetts and Connecticut

Governor Raimondo proposed a number of changes to the state’s medical marijuana program, including an increase in the number of dispensaries, as well as adding “acute pain” as a qualifying condition.

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In the face of a rapidly-growing green rush across the United States' East Coast, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is trying her hardest to make sure her state isn't lost in the shuffle.

According to local WPRI News, Gov. Raimondo has proposed an expansion plan for Rhode Island's medical cannabis industry, pushing to increase the number of allowed dispensaries, or "compassion centers," and open access to residents in neighboring states.

Included in Rhode Island's proposed $9.8 billion dollar state budget for 2018-2019, the medical cannabis expansion plan could more than double the number of registered patients and increase state revenue by upwards of $5 million, according to officials' predictions. The income from cannabis taxes could greatly benefit the state, which is set to spend big on projects like public schools and increased government employment.

"Our public school buildings are crumbling," Governor Raimondo wrote in an introductory letter. "My budget includes a bold plan to make a generational investment in our school facilities."

While the Ocean State is currently lagging behind Northeast states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, all three of which have already legalized cannabis for recreational adult-use, Gov. Raimondo's expansion proposal would see Rhode Island play catch-up by adding "acute pain" as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana access, licensing 12 new dispensaries, and opening the state's dispensaries to cannabis patients living in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

State officials are hopeful that the chronic pain concession could alone add some 16,000 patients to the program, almost doubling the state's current 19,000-plus registered medical cannabis users.

With twice as many people using state-approved cannabis and 12 more dispensaries making daily sales, officials expect an increase of $1.1 million in legal weed sales tax from the proposed compassion centers and hundreds of thousands more from out-of-state patients.

Earlier this month, the owners of Rhode Island's three operating dispensaries began lobbying the state to allow home deliveries as a way to entice residents to spend in the state instead of crossing state lines to purchase cannabis in Massachusetts' and Maine's impending recreational markets.

"When this program was set up, we didn't think about competition with neighboring states," Seth Bock, CEO of Portsmouth, Rhode Island's Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, told the Providence Journal in early January. "Now we can't avoid that conversation. If the state doesn't take appropriate action, there's a real threat that we could be driven out of business."

If Governor Raimondo's proposal is passed, it's still not exactly clear when the new dispensaries will open or when out-of-state residents will be granted access to Rhode Island's MMJ industry. The expansion plan will first move to the Rhode Island General Assembly, where it will be debated sometime in the coming months.

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