We took to the legal teams at Lisa Holley Law and Pannone Lopes Devereaux and O’Gara to ask them the straight facts about legalization, possession and usage and retail of recreational cannabis since the Rhode Island Cannabis Act became law in May.
The Rhode Island Cannabis Act allows for automatic expungement of certain cannabis crimes from an individual’s record. Businesses who disallow employees with drug convictions, or preclude licenses based on certain drug crimes, will have to understand the effect of the expungement section. Individuals with an expungable crime who cannot wait for the automatic expungement may petition the courts for an expedited expungement. —Lisa Holley Law
The possession, with limitations, and consumption of cannabis by anyone over the age of twenty-one is already legal under Rhode Island law. That said, adult-use sale of cannabis will commence this December starting with the state’s licensed medical compassion centers that have applied for and received hybrid retail licenses. —PLDO Partner Benjamin L. Rackliffe
Possession and Usage
Where is smoking cannabis prohibited in the state (public places)?
Cannabis smoking is disallowed anywhere that tobacco is prohibited. You may smoke cannabis anywhere that allows tobacco smoking. However, the act contains a provision allowing local municipalities the option to pass ordinances which would restrict cannabis use in certain public places, should they so choose. —Lisa Holley Law
There are specific prohibitions in Rhode Island’s adult-use act. The smoking or vaporizing of cannabis is prohibited in a school bus or other form of public transportation, on school grounds, in correctional facilities, in any licensed drug treatment facility and in any other place where exposure to cannabis smoke significantly adversely affects the health, safety or welfare of children. —PLDO Partner Benjamin L. Rackliffe
What are the laws on driving while impaired?
Driving while impaired was a serious concern for law enforcement while considering the passage of the Rhode Island Cannabis Act. Because, unlike alcohol, cannabis cannot be accurately measured in one’s bloodstream or breath.—Lisa Holley Law
The laws on driving while under the influence of cannabis generally mimic those for driving under the influence of alcohol. It is prohibited to operate any motor vehicle, aircraft or motorboat while under the influence of cannabis, as a person may be arrested and/or subject to fines or penalties. However, a person will not necessarily be considered under the influence solely for having cannabis metabolites in his or her system. There is no reliable scientific method to roadside test a motor vehicle operator and determine marijuana-induced impairment, and cannabis metabolites can stay in a person’s system for up to thirty or so days. —PLDO Partner Benjamin L. Rackliffe
What about drug testing by employers? Can I be fired if they test for cannabis use?
An employer cannot take disciplinary action against an employee simply for lawful use of cannabis outside the workplace, so long as the employee is not working under the influence. There are exceptions however, such as if the employee is subject to federal law or regulations (for example, federal Department of Transportation commercial drivers), federal contractors and employment that is ‘hazardous, dangerous, or essential to public welfare and safety.’ —Lisa Holley Law
An employer may discharge, discipline or refuse to hire an employee for violating a workplace drug policy or for working under the influence of cannabis. In accordance with the expungement portion of the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, an employer is not permitted to require an employee to disclose sealed or expunged offenses, unless otherwise required by law. —PLDO Partner Benjamin L. Rackliffe
What are the laws on marijuana safety (purity of product) at dispensaries, especially for medical reasons?
The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation’s Office of Cannabis Regulation and the Rhode Island Department of Health has established testing processes on all medical marijuana sold at compassion centers. In addition to pesticides and potency (CBD and THC), microbiological testing, water activity testing and heavy metals testing has been in effect. —Lisa Holley Law
Given Rhode Island’s robust testing requirements, Rhode Island is gaining the reputation of having some of the purest and safest medical cannabis products in the region. We can certainly anticipate that there will be equally stringent requirements in the adult-use marketplace when adult-use retail commences in December. —PLDO Partner Benjamin L. Rackliffe
Cannabis Studies at Local Colleges
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Major/Program: Medicinal Plant Chemistry — Master of Science
Course Description: Provides students with deep scientific and business knowledge. Upon completion, students will be able to integrate knowledge of plant-based medicinal compounds in their role as a professional scientist; demonstrate expertise in modern techniques for natural product isolation, characterization and analysis; and foster leadership and interpersonal skills required to excel in a diverse life science company. Online program.
Completion Rate: Two years at full-time enrollment; three-and-one-third years at part-time enrollment.
Major/Program: Cannabis Education Certificate Program
Course Description: In partnership with Green Flower, students can pursue a noncredit certificate in four cannabis-specific programs in medicine and health care, business and enterprise, agriculture and horticulture and compliance and risk management. Online program.
Completion Rate: Six months.
Major/Program: Certificate in Regulatory Affairs for Cannabis Control
Course Description: The program delivers the skills, knowledge and networks needed to navigate the impacts of legalization of cannabis in our communities, states and nation. The certificate consists of three, seven-week online graduate-level courses. Generous scholarships are available. One hundred percent of certificate credits can be applied to a Clark Master of Public Administration degree.
Completion Rate: Three, seven-week online graduate-level courses.
University of Rhode Island
Major/Program: Cannabis Studies Certificate
Course Description: Offered by the College of Pharmacy, the online certificate program is designed to give students a foundation in cannabis studies, as well as develop core competencies in natural product separation and analysis, safe product development and manufacturing, and the evaluation of the therapeutic potential of cannabis.
Completion Rate: Seven-week online course. Also offered as part of a minor degree.
Johnson and Wales University
Major/Program: Cannabis Entrepreneurship — Bachelor of Science
Course Description: With the rise in the industry, the program is a half business entrepreneurship, half science degree. Students enroll in plant cultivation, application of fungi and botany courses with focuses in hydroponics and real-life application as well as marketing, human resources, analytics and supply chain management courses to understand the business side of the industry. Students explore the process of developing nonpsychoactive cannabis products (best known as CBD) from seed to distribution.
Completion Rate: Four-year bachelor’s degree.
FAQ: The Blunt Facts
What’s approved? How much can I legally possess? Can I grow my own cannabis? Senator Joshua Miller answers your burning questions.
Is recreational cannabis legal right now?
A. The Rhode Island Cannabis Act legalizes the sale of up to one ounce of cannabis for those age twenty-one and up, with no more than ten ounces for personal use kept in a primary residence, effective Oct. 1. No more than one ounce is allowed in your possession; one to two ounces is considered a civil violation, and more than that is a misdemeanor unless possessed inside one’s residence.
What happens Dec. 1?
A. Compassion centers are allowed to sell recreational marijuana, provided they obtain hybrid retail licenses as of Dec. 1.
What’s the difference between recreational and medical use?
A. Medical cannabis is utilized to treat a variety of conditions. Under the new statute, adult-use cannabis can be possessed and used without a prescription. Medical cannabis will also continue to be available. After Dec. 1, there will be no fee for medical card renewals.
Which medical conditions apply?
A. A variety of conditions apply. That determination is up to a patient’s doctor.
Cash, card or insurance?
A. Insurance does not cover medical cannabis. While there is no prohibition against credit card use in the legislation, federal rules such as those under FDIC may make such use unavailable.
How much recreational cannabis can I have on me?
A. One ounce.
Can I grow my own cannabis?
A. Yes, with limitations. People can have a maximum of three mature and three immature cannabis plants per residential dwelling unit.
What happens to previous criminal records regarding marijuana possession?
A. Criminal records will be automatically expunged over a period of time. Expungement can also be expedited through a simple request process.
Note: Senator Miller, alongside Representative Scott A. Slater, sponsored the cannabis bill. Additional Source: The RI Cannabis Act
Compassion Centers and Dispensaries
Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center
1 Corliss St., Providence, 274-1000, slatercenter.com
380 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, 889-3990, risecannabis.com
999 William S. Canning Blvd., Fall River, Mass., 508-567-6761, nealternatives.com
Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center
1637 W. Main Rd., Portsmouth, 293-5987, greenleafcare.org
delivery service based in Warwick, sweetspotfarms.com
THC vs. CBD: What’s the Diff?
While both are cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, they serve different purposes and affect the body differently.
CBD | cannabidiol
Derived directly from the hemp plant and does not cause a “high.” The expansion of CBD goes beyond the bud and into drugs, food, products marketed as dietary supplements and cosmetics.
THC | tetrahydrocannabinol
The psychoactive properties that cause the typical “high.” Can be found in edibles and leaves of the plant.
Atmosphere CBD cafe, East Providence
287 Taunton Ave., East Providence, 808-6611, apositiveatmosphere.com
Blackstone Herbs + Martini Bar, Coventry
710 Centre of New England Blvd., Coventry, 471-7218, blackstonecoventry.com
Drift Cafe, Newport
190 Thames St., Newport, 619-2828, driftnewport.com
By the Numbers
66 Growers currently approved to cultivate medical marijuana throughout the state
$47.7 million in retail sales of medical marijuana since the start of 2022
5,762 Pounds of cannabis from cultivator to compassion centers
Source: RI Department of Business Regulation
Chris Reilly of the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center gives us the do’s and don’ts when entering a shop.
DO: Bring valid identification: medical card or government-issued ID.
DON’T: Operate under the influence of cannabis products.
DO: Ask questions! Employees are happy to show different products and explain how they are used and what to expect.
DON’T: Re-sell cannabis purchased at a dispensary.
DO: Research dispensaries and check websites for products and conveniences.
DON’T: Consume cannabis products on the premises of a dispensary.
DO: Research local rules and restrictions regarding cannabis consumption.
DON’T: Take photos or videos in a medical/hybrid facility (to protect patient confidentiality).
DO: Check whether the dispensary is cash-only or accepts other forms of payment.
DON’T: Bring children to a dispensary, or leave children or pets inside a car.