For years, Rhode Island has been a medical marijuana pioneer on America’s prohibition-friendly east coast. But since the state’s first dispensary opened four years ago, a restrictive state law has capped the number of legal pot shops at three. But now, as neighboring states like Massachusetts and Maine prepare for full-scale recreational legalization, some Rhode Island lawmakers are finally ready to expand their three trick pony and double the number of state-sanctioned dispensaries.
According to the Providence Journal, the size of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana registry has more than tripled since that first dispensary opened its doors, with 17,757 patients currently on the books - or 1 in every 45 Ocean State adults. That heavy interest has lead state legislators to push for increased availability.
“It’s based on simple economics, supply and demand,” Senator Stephen Archambault, the Democrat pushing for MMJ expansion, said. “People are going to be able to get this drug from compassion centers more easily and at a decreased cost (if the bill passes.)”
The proposed legislation would allow six total dispensaries, or compassion centers as they’re called in Rhode Island, essentially doubling cannabis access for the state’s medical marijuana patients. Still, not everyone in the Ocean State is convinced more pot shops are necessary.
While Rhode Island has the fewest dispensaries-per-patient of any state with a comprehensive medical program, they also have some of the more relaxed home-grow laws in the nation, with each patient permitted 12 plants.
“Where is the data to show that there is an unmet need?” Rhode Island cannabis lobbyist Chris Reilly told the Journal. “Unless the very liberal home-grow provision is addressed, there will continue to be an imbalance. Sen. Archambault’s bill does not address the imbalance. All it does is add new centers to the limited pool of patients that use compassion centers in the first place.”
The state’s three operating dispensaries, located in Providence, Warwick, and Portsmouth, say that adding more competition could put them out of business.
It’s still not clear if Archambault’s bill will reach a vote this legislative session or be tabled for discussion down the line.