Late yesterday, the Rhode Island Senate adopted the House's budget bill, sending the legislation to Gov. Raimondo for her approval. Although the governor's January budget proposal included a plan to legalize marijuana for adults, the state legislature removed it and instead increased the number of licenses for medical marijuana compassion centers from three to nine. The budget also raises the annual licensing fees for these businesses to $500,000 — by far the highest in the nation.
Though the outcome is not what we hoped for, we were successful in avoiding an even worse result. After MPP and our allies called legislators' attention to it, the House amended out a budget provision that would have allowed the Department of Business Regulation to establish "criteria for eligibility or a demonstration of need" for patients and caregivers who wish to grow medical marijuana. Given the department's stated opposition to home cultivation, many patients could have lost their ability to produce their own medicine had this provision not been removed.
Looking ahead, advocates for sensible marijuana policy reform in Rhode Island are regrouping and planning for next year. With the legislative session winding down and no elections coming up, the next six months are an excellent time to contact your state senator and representative and talk with them about the need for sensible cannabis policy reform.
Though it is disappointing when progress does not come quickly, our movement is winning, and our numbers are growing. We must continue speaking out and advocating for reform. I appreciate you for sticking with us and continuing this fight.
Stay tuned for more updates soon.
This Friday, the Rhode Island House will debate H 5151 Sub A, the budget bill for the coming fiscal year. As written, Article 15 of this legislation would make two significant changes to undermine the state's medical marijuana program.
First, the House budget would require all patients who wish to grow for themselves to register as their own caregiver. Then, it empowers the Department of Business Regulation to establish criteria for caregivers, which may include "eligibility" and "a demonstration of need." Depending on how the department uses this authority, it could effectively eliminate home cultivation for all but a few patients.
Second, while the current budget proposal would increase the number of compassion centers from three to nine, it also raises the annual licensing fee for these facilities to $500,000 a year, which is 10-100 times more than what most other states require for medical marijuana business licenses. This fee will ensure that only people with deep pockets can enter the market, and the increased costs will be passed down to patients in the form of increased prices.
Limiting patients' ability to grow their own medicine while simultaneously increasing costs for patients at the compassion centers is a cruel and unnecessary way to balance the budget. Enough is enough.
Thank you for taking action!