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Rhode Island Ushers In New Era for Medical Weed Patients with Digital Applications

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDHO) recently announced its initiative to allow residents to apply for medical cannabis card registration online. The Rhode Island Cannabis Licensing Portal went live as of June 1, which covers a basic foundation for new and existing patients.

“The new system, known as the Rhode Island Cannabis Licensing Portal, lets existing card holders renew registrations, update personal information, and make necessary changes to their existing registration cards,” the press release states. “New patients applying for a medical marijuana registration card will now apply through the Cannabis Licensing Portal as well.”

A press release announced the launch of the program on June 1 and specified that the previous system was “entirely paper-based.” Now applications can be approved or denied within 35 days of submitting an application.

As the new system rolls out, the press release adds that they will eventually phase out mail-based notifications, but did not provide an end date. “RIDOH will stop mailing registration reminders and renewal forms in the coming months,” the announcement explained. “It is very important that patients create an account in the portal to be sure they get important messages and updates from RIDOH, including renewal reminders 60 days before the expiration date.”

Rhode Island’s medical cannabis program was enacted in 2006, according to a breakdown by Americans for Safe Access. At the time, patients were legally allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, could cultivate up to 12 plants at home, and could appoint two caregivers, and only eight medical conditions qualified for medical cannabis. The state did not establish a foundation for medical dispensary access for almost seven years. In 2011, former Gov. Lincoln Chafee suspended licensing for compassion centers, but licensing resumed in 2012, and compassion centers began to open by 2013. After that, state officials helped expand the list of qualifying conditions and slowly began to roll out new rules.

The state’s recreational cannabis sales began much more recently, in December 2022. During the first week, with only five retailers operating at the time, the industry collected $1.6 million in sales. The total is broken up into recreational sales ($786,000) and medical cannabis ($845,400). Between February and March, the state collected $8.7 million in total sales, with a split of $3.3 million in medical cannabis sales and $5.3 million in recreational cannabis sales.

In December 2022, the medical cannabis patient count sat at 15,062, but has declined slightly following recreational cannabis legalization. In January 2023, there were 14,590 registered patients, followed by a slight increase of 14,673 in February, and then a decrease to 13,691 in March.

In a statement from Gov. Dan McKee, who signed the recreational cannabis bill earlier that year in May, he praised the potential of Rhode Island’s expansion into recreational cannabis. “This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” said McKee. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My Administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.”

Most recently, McKee nominated three individuals in May to take part in a regulatory panel that “will oversee the regulation, licensing and control of adult use and medical cannabis in the Ocean State.” McKee’s appointed chair of the panel, Kimberly Ahern, expressed her hope to continue the “good work” that has been accomplished by regulators so far in her state. “The first six months of adult-use have demonstrated our state’s success in carefully expanding into this new industry,” Ahern said. “I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to regulate cannabis in a manner that is safe, transparent and equitable in the years going forward.”

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