Rhode Island's first legal adult-use cannabis dispensaries are now open for business, just six months after state lawmakers voted to legalize weed.
The nation's tiniest state accomplished this feat by allowing five of its six existing medical cannabis dispensaries to start selling recreational bud before exclusive adult-use stores open. The state’s adult-use law, which took effect in May, allows adults to legally possess and grow weed, but sales have remained prohibited until this month. Lawmakers initially planned to allow dispensaries to start selling adult-use pot in October, but eventually pushed the deadline back to December 1st.
But even with this two-month delay, Rhode Island got legal sales underway far faster than any other Northeastern state. New York, which legalized weed over 18 months ago, only just recently got around to licensing its first retailers, and it's doubtful that sales will kick off until next year. And in Connecticut, which legalized weed last summer, regulatory delays are also pushing retail sales back to 2023.
Matt Santacroce, interim deputy director of the state Department of Business Regulation and head of the Office of Cannabis Regulation, told NBC10 News that Rhode Island kicked off legal sales “orders of magnitude more quickly than any other state in the Northeast has done it. We're very happy about that... We have -- with very, very, very few exceptions -- an industry and a group of licensees here that are working really hard to make it in this state, that are trying every day to do the right thing.”
Rhode Island is also unique in that local towns and cities have largely decided to embrace the legal weed industry. Like most other adult-use states, the Ocean State allows individual municipalities to opt-out of allowing legal pot businesses to open on their turf. In California, as many as 80% of local governments chose to do so, a decision that has helped the state's powerful black market stay in business. But in Rhode Island, 85% of municipalities opted in to the legal market, guaranteeing easy access to legal bud.
That access will become even easier once the state's exclusive adult-use retailers open for business. The state plans to open as many as 24 adult-use dispensaries, but before that can happen, Gov. Daniel McKee must still appoint the commission that will handle the necessary licensing. He is expected to do so next month, but Santacroce estimates that it could take at least another full year before the exclusive adult-use shops can open for business.
Industry insiders hope that the early rollout will help convince Rhode Islanders to start buying weed locally instead of traveling to nearby Massachusetts. “We’re anticipating to actually get back 50% of the people that are going to Massachusetts once they see the great product offering here in Rhode Island,” said Joe Pakuris, co-owner of Mother Earth Wellness, one of the five dispensaries authorized to sell adult-use weed, to MJBizDaily.
And although there are only 5 dispensaries to serve the entire state, business owners believe they will have enough product on hand to meet the increased demand. Cultivators have been expecting the state to legalize for years now, and have already made preparations to scale up to a larger market share. MJBizDaily projects that Rhode Island's new cannabis market will make $80 million in its first year of sales, and eventually mature to a $300 million-a-year business within the next four years.