When The Rhode Island Cannabis Act was enacted on May 25, 2022, Rhode Island became the 19th U.S. state to legalize the possession, growing, and sale of small amounts of cannabis for recreational purposes.
This effectively decriminalized adult-use cannabis and opened the door for adults aged 21 or over to legally possess or purchase cannabis in the state, as well as for businesses to apply for Rhode Island cannabis business licenses.
Cannabis state laws vary across the states that have legalized it but here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the legality of cannabis in Rhode Island…
How much cannabis is it legal to possess and grow in Rhode Island?
Adults over the age of 21 can possess up to one ounce of cannabis on their person and up to ten ounces in their homes. It’s also legal to transfer up to one ounce of cannabis to another adult aged 21 or older.
You can legally grow up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants in your home (a total of six plants).
Can you smoke cannabis in public in Rhode Island?
You cannot smoke or vape cannabis in public places that prohibit smoking or vaping tobacco. Local municipalities may also ban the activity in additional places under their control.
Where can I buy cannabis legally in Rhode Island?
Starting at the end of 2022, adults in Rhode Island were able to purchase cannabis from one of five dispensaries across the state. An additional 28 dispensaries were scheduled to open across Rhode Island in 2023.
Almost 70 existing medical cannabis cultivators are permitted to sell products to adult-use cannabis businesses, a number that is set to grow.
If I possess over the legal amount, can I go to jail?
Yes, but because cannabis possession has been decriminalized in Rhode Island, adults over the age of 21 will not be liable for a criminal charge if they are caught in possession of between one and two ounces of cannabis on their person outside their homes.
Instead, they will be guilty of a civil offense and liable for a fine — as will a person aged 17 to 20 who possesses less than two ounces of cannabis.
However, failure to provide police with valid ID can lead to an arrest and a criminal charge. You are also likely to face a hefty jail term if caught in possession of 1 to 5 kg of cannabis, which remains a felony with a possible sentence of 10 to 50 years.
What happens to past criminal records in connection with cannabis?
Because of the decriminalization of cannabis in Rhode Island, any civil violation or criminal conviction (including a nolo plea) on your record for a possession offense that has now been decriminalized can be expunged at no cost.
Most simple cases have already been expunged. The Rhode Island courts will expunge records from more complex cases by July 1, 2024, but you may still have time to apply for an expedited expungement if you petition the court.
What are my employee rights if I use cannabis?
One major concern for cannabis users, even now it has been decriminalized in Rhode Island, is whether employers can still take action against it.
Generally speaking, employers can no longer discipline or terminate an employee based on off-duty cannabis usage. However, being under the influence of cannabis at work may still be a dismissible offense.
In some occupations and some situations (like with collective bargaining agreements), private cannabis usage may not be tolerated by employers. It may be stipulated, for instance, that employees should not use cannabis 24 hours before working in situations that are “hazardous, dangerous or essential to public safety and welfare.” This includes operating heavy machinery, driving or in public safety/first responder jobs.
Random drug testing without reasonable suspicion generally remains prohibited in Rhode Island workplaces, except in safety-sensitive occupations that are federally regulated.
Can cannabis usage affect my parental rights in R.I.?
Parental rights, such as custody and visitation rights, are generally unaffected by a mother or father’s cannabis usage in Rhode Island, absent clear evidence that there is “an unreasonable danger to the safety of a minor child.”
Can a past criminal record exclude me from working in the cannabis industry?
Unless you have a criminal history that is “substantially related to the occupation” for which a license or employment is being sought (i.e., cannabis possession, cultivation or sale), a criminal record should not preclude employment in the cannabis industry.
Does cannabis usage affect my access to medical care?
No, cannabis usage does not disqualify you from “any needed medical procedure or treatment, including organ and tissue transplants.”
Medical cannabis, which has been legal in Rhode Island since 2006, should be easier and cheaper to acquire for people who rely on such medications following the legalization of adult-use cannabis.
Can I possess and smoke cannabis if I rent?
This is between you and your landlord if you live in private accommodation but cannabis usage is prohibited in any public housing governed by federal rules.
Who regulates the cannabis industry in Rhode Island?
Industry oversight and regulation, including the review of cannabis business license applications, is performed by the Cannabis Control Commission in Rhode Island.
How will our cannabis and psychedelic business services help you
Cannabis & psychedelics business entity formation
Whether you are looking to form a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation, our experienced business lawyers can discuss the pros and cons of both and help you incorporate your business with the optimal structure to achieve your goals.
Cannabis & psychedelics business licenses
If you want to run a cannabis or psychedelics business, you will need a valid business license issued by your state authority as well as local permits. Eligibility criteria are likely to be stringent and we can help you navigate the often-complex license application process.
Cannabis & psychedelics corporate documentation
Whether you need to prepare for a license application, transfer of business ownership, change of corporate structure, transfer business location or another business process, we can help you identify and draft the documentation you need to operate legally in your state.
Cannabis & psychedelics administrative law
State authorities watch licensed and unlicensed cannabis and psychedelics businesses closely. If you violate regulations, you could face an administrative penalty. Our attorneys can provide representation or help you prepare for an administrative hearing, settlement conference or appeal.
Cannabis & psychedelics disputes and litigation
Whether you have a dispute with another business, a legal issue with one of your partners or a licensing or administrative issue, you may need legal assistance to help resolve it. We are adept at alternative dispute resolution methods as well as civil litigation.
Cannabis & psychedelics regulatory compliance
As the cannabis and psychedelics industries emerge in states around the U.S., they are more heavily regulated than most other industries. We can help your business navigate the red tape and plan to stay on the right side of the regulatory authorities in whichever state you are based.
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Opening a successful and legal marijuana dispensary begins with hiring a knowledgeable cannabis attorney and learning all that you can about this industry and the applicable laws. The next step is to set up a corporate business structure and create a retail business plan, which an attorney can also help you with. You will also need to research potential locations for your business to find out where licensing is legal.
Next, obtain the necessary licensing to operate your cannabis business and ensure that your operational infrastructure follows all laws and regulations. If you are not growing or producing your products yourself, you will need to contract with cultivators and product manufacturers to supply your business.
Before you begin the process of applying for a cannabis license, you need to establish a business from which to apply. The state will not consider an application from an individual; instead, the applicant must be a business entity in good standing with the state.
Your business will begin when you choose a legal entity and file the appropriate paperwork with the Secretary of State. After that, you will file with the IRS and obtain a taxpayer identification number.
You would start with articles of incorporation and include other key corporate provisions in the bylaws that state how your company will be governed. If your business is a partnership or limited liability company, you will need an operating agreement. Depending on your line of business, you may also need other licenses to operate.
In addition, you will also need other corporate documents that the Department of Health will want to see when they are considering your cannabis application. Of importance here, your application would ask you to provide:
Your articles of incorporation
Certificate of good standing
An attorney can help you both choose the appropriate business entity and draft and file any necessary documentation. When you are seeking to enter the cannabis field, it is important to get your business formation process right to make the best possible impression on the Department of Health. Doing so will allow you to devote as much time as possible to your cannabis-related business arrangements.
As a precursor to even being able to apply for state approval of your cannabis business, you must have a properly formed business entity. As a result, the first documentation you must file is the documentation establishing your business.
Next, you will need to obtain a tax identification number by registering with the IRS. In addition, the licensing application also asks you to provide your current state business license registration.
Beyond your general business licenses, you would also need specific permission to operate a cannabis business. This involves a very strict registration process where the state will closely scrutinize your application. You can expect the state to review each of the licenses that they request since it wants to be sure that your business complies with laws before they are granted the right to operate in the cannabis industry.
Compliance means making sure that you follow the myriad of laws that apply to your state’s cannabis businesses. Further, the regulatory landscape is fast-changing as the state gains more experience overseeing the businesses.
What this means for you is that knowledge is one of the most important things that you can have. Not only do you need an expert in the current laws, but you also need to be able to anticipate future changes in the law. This means that each business needs an expert who understands the laws and can advise them as to the best means of following them.
Also, compliance also means that you have sound policies and procedures in place that govern your business. The Department of Health is already looking at your policies when they evaluate your initial application. However, they reserve the right to audit and inspect your business to verify that you are complying with the law. You should always be ready for an inspection by documenting how you are following the regulations.
The best way to show compliance is by keeping your paperwork organized and conducting your own internal audits. The Department is interested primarily in your safety procedures, so you should be ready to show how you are following your own procedures. Further, you should always reevaluate your own policies to see if there are any weaknesses or changes that can be made to strengthen them.
The major thing that the Department of Health is interested in is the safety of both the product and the operation. As a baseline, the state wants to know who all of the owners are and the people who will be working in the operation.
While there are common documents among all the application classes that the Department is seeking, there are also special requirements for each of the categories.
For example, when the Department is evaluating a manufacturing application, it will pay close attention to measures that your business takes to ensure proper hygiene and testing methods. The Department also will pay attention to the manufacturer’s procurement practice and the security of its inventory.
With regard to laboratory submissions, the focus is partially on the testing processes and equipment that the business will use. The Department wants technical, scientific details of the exact tests and the quality control that the laboratory will use for testing. The emphasis is on ensuring product safety.
For courier businesses, the Department will scrutinize the safety and security of the delivery process, including the vehicles and the delivery routes that are used. The emphasis is on the safety of qualified patients, primary caregivers, and courier staff in light of the product being delivered. In addition, since there is interaction with patients, the Department wants to see how the applicant plans on protecting patient privacy.
Cannabis legalization often works in a series of steps. Broadly speaking, cannabis policy reform occurs in the following stages:
Prohibition: Criminal penalties apply for the possession or use of cannabis.
Decriminalization: Low-level criminal penalties are removed for cannabis usage (e.g., personal possession) and criminal penalties may be replaced with civil fines.
Medical legalization: Full medical legalization with commercial licensing and testing may come straight away or in a series of stages.
Legalization: State laws are changed to make any cannabis activity a crime no longer. Cannabis must be removed from the Controlled Substances Act and new rules added for the legal commercial cultivation, distribution, testing, and sales of cannabis.
Oregon and Colorado states have decriminalized the use, sale, and possession of psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” and has been shown to have great value in treating certain medical conditions, like depression, anxiety and life-threatening cancers.
Besides these states, the cities of Oakland and Santa Cruz in California as well as Washington, D.C., Somerville, Cambridge and Northampton (Massachusetts) have all decriminalized psilocybin.
It should be noted that all psychedelics are illegal in the United States under federal law and drugs like MDMA, DMT, ketamine, LSD and psilocybin are Schedule 1 controlled substances. This means they are viewed as having no medical purpose and no legitimate commercial application