Licensed sales of adult-use cannabis began in Rhode Island on Thursday, only six months after Governor Dan McKee signed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older. Five stores began selling adult-use cannabis on December 1, with more licensed retailers expected to begin business operations in the coming weeks.
The five retailers who launched adult-use cannabis sales on Thursday were all already licensed to sell medical marijuana to patients registered with the state’s medicinal cannabis program. By the end of next month, two additional so-called hybrid retailers will add recreational marijuana sales to their existing medical cannabis operations.
Last week, the governor marked the impending launch of adult-use cannabis sales as the December 1 launch date approached.
“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said in a November 22 statement from the governor’s office. “It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers. Finally, I thank the leadership of the General Assembly for passing this practical implementation framework in the Rhode Island Cannabis Act and I look forward to continuing our work together on this issue.”
Matt Santacroce, chief of the Rhode Island Office of Cannabis Regulation and interim deputy director of the Department of Business Regulation, noted the speed with which state regulators had authorized the launch of recreational marijuana sales after McKee signed legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis in May.
“We were pleased with the quality and comprehensiveness of the applications we received from the state’s compassion centers, and we are proud to launch adult use sales in Rhode Island just six months after the Cannabis Act was signed into law, marking the Northeast’s fastest implementation period,” said Santacroce. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s cannabis business community to ensure this critical economic sector scales in compliance with the rules and regulations put forward by state regulators.
State officials are not expecting a surge in cannabis use because medical marijuana has been legal since 2006 and recreational cannabis is available in neighboring states.
“It’s a good opportunity for Rhode Islanders to buy safe, regulated cannabis products in the convenience of their own town or area of the state,” Santacroce told the Boston Globe. “If you are used to going to Massachusetts or wherever, you can save time and gas. We will generate state and local tax revenue that didn’t exist before. And we have the opportunity to capture value in our market, in our industry, in our supply chain. That’s a big deal.”
Under state law, adults are permitted to smoke cannabis wherever tobacco smoking is allowed, unless the use poses potential harm to children. The legislation passed in May also includes provisions to expunge prior cannabis possession offenses no longer illegal under current law.
Taxes on recreational sales include a 10% state cannabis excise tax in addition to the 7% state sales tax, plus an additional 3% local tax for the city or town in which the sale takes place. Taxes on recreational marijuana sales are expected to generate about $15 million in tax revenues in the first full fiscal year of sales. State officials project regulated marijuana sales to generate about $7.5 million in state excise tax revenue, $5.2 million in state sales tax revenue, and $2.2 million in local excise tax revenue.
Cannabis retailer Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket opened three hours earlier than its normal 8:00 a.m. opening time to get a jump on the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales, and the shop’s first recreational marijuana transaction was rung up at 5:18 a.m. The dispensary saw about 300 customers visit the dispensary by mid-morning, about 80% of whom were recreational buyers.
“We’ve had a very successful day,” Mother Earth Wellness co-owner Joe Pakuris told the Associated Press. “I think it has been a smooth transition and the state has done an excellent job of rolling out this program. Everything’s great.”