Without a doubt, this Fall will be a decisive period for the United States as it relates to national cannabis policy. Voters in five states, Massachusetts among them, will have the opportunity to dictate whether cannabis will be legalized for recreational use, joining the likes of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Additionally, electorates in a handful of other states will decide whether to join Rhode Island and the approximate two dozen other states in legalizing the medical use of cannabis.

While the continued momentum of change at the national level has received significant media attention, local cannabis entrepreneurs, both presently involved in the Rhode Island medical cannabis industry, and those aspiring to become participants in the market place, should be aware of significant impending changes to Rhode Island’s regulatory scheme. Regulatory change will be most prevalent in the arenas of medical marijuana cultivation and sale.

Since the inception of Rhode Island’s medical cannabis laws, patients, state-registered “caregivers” and qualifying “cooperative cultivations”, were permitted to supply Rhode Island’s state-sanctioned dispensaries with their excess medical marijuana and to seek remuneration from those dispensaries. The steady increase in the number of qualifying patients in the State since the commencement of the medical cannabis program, and the apparent inability of the State-sanctioned dispensaries to independently meet market demand, resulted in the emergence of a private – and profitable – cultivation market that was largely unregulated by the state. But Rhode Island’s medical marijuana industry as historically conducted is about to change. Drastically.

Effective, January 1, 2017, neither patients, nor caregivers, nor cooperative cultivations will be allowed to sell excess medical cannabis to dispensaries. Only licensed cultivators, a newly created category of legal cannabis growers, will be permitted to cultivate and sell medical marijuana to dispensaries. Both those presently participating in Rhode Island’s medical cannabis industry and those seeking to enter the marketplace will have to meet the regulatory requirements of Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulation’s (DBR) to obtain licensed cultivator status.

While, the DBR has yet to issue regulations regarding the process for licensure, there are a number of things that medical cannabis growers may do in the interim to best position themselves for the award of a cultivation license and future success in Rhode Island’s emerging cannabis industry. Meeting with an attorney or your business advisor who is familiar with Rhode Island’s unique medical marijuana laws and regulations is an important first step to obtaining such a license.

If you need further information about the pending Rhode Island regulations or have a question about another business matter, please contact PLDO Attorney Benjamin L. Rackliffe at or email . We welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.