Rhode Island Cannabis Laws

Is Cannabis Legal In Rhode Island?
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StateRecreationalMedical MarijuanaCBD
Rhode IslandNoYesYes

Federal Law:

Recreational Medical MarijuanaCBD

Is recreational cannabis legal in Rhode Island?

No. While Rhode Island has built an exemplary medical marijuana program, recreational adult-use cannabis remains illegal. The state legislature began introducing legalization bills in the early 2010s without any advancement. 

Recent polling suggests that over half the population supports full legalization, but there is no public ballot initiative in Rhode Island. This is key to their failure, as most recreational states excluding Illinois, passed ballot initiatives through the popular vote, to bypass bills being held up in the state legislature. Lawmakers continue to look for creative solutions to combat conservatives’ distaste to end cannabis prohibition. This year, Democrats proposed a plan to combat their state’s budget crisis by showcasing how profitable a possible recreational market could be. 

However, Rhode Island, in recent years, decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis for adults 18 years or older. Decriminalization amendments include:

  • Possession of less than 1 ounce is subject to a $150 fine.
  • Possession of less than 1 ounce will not result in incarceration or a record of a crime committed.
  • Possession of more than 1 ounce up to 1 kilogram is a misdemeanor.

Is Medical Marijuana legal in Rhode Island?

Yes. Despite Gov. Carcieri’s veto, Rhode Island legislation approved SB 710 to legalize medical marijuana in 2006. Under this law, approved patients may possess up to 2.5 oz of cannabis and cultivate up to 12 plants per period.

In the following years, their compassionate care program expanded in 2016, adding specific ailments like PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. By 2018, families gained access to treat autism with medical marijuana products. 

As of 2020, there were three “compassionate care” dispensaries in Rhode Island and 6 licenses open to new applicants. Approved and registered patients with the following qualifying conditions can receive medical marijuana treatment: 

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Autism
  • Cachexia 
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Glaucoma
  • Hepatitis C
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • PTSD
  • Severe/Chronic Pain
  • Seizure Disorders/Epilepsy
  • Severe Muscle Spasms
  • Severe Nausea

Are CBD products legal in Rhode Island? 

Yes. Since the passage of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, hemp-derived CBD products are legal under federal law in the United States, as long as they contain at most 0.3% THC. 

Any and all CBD in food and drink is still federally illegal.

What’s Rhode Island’s medical marijuana sales tax? 

7%. All medical marijuana products purchased with a prescription are still subject to the taxed state’s retail sales tax. 

Is medical marijuana delivery legal in Rhode Island?

Yes. Registered patients may have their medical marijuana product directly delivered to their home via one of the three state-licensed “compassionate care” facilities. 

Rhode Island’s Cannabis Timeline:

1918: Rhode Island’s bans cannabis 

1937: The Marihuana (archaic spelling of Marijuana) Tax Act was enacted banning cannabis at the federal level. Medical Marijuana use was still permitted.

1951: The Boggs Act, Sponsored by Hale Boggs and signed into law under President Harry S. Truman, set mandatory sentencing and increased punishment for cannabis possession. 

1969: The Marihuana Tax Act is deemed unconstitutional in the landmark Leary v. United States. Timothy Leary, a professor, and activist was arrested for the possession of marijuana in violation of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Leary then challenged the act because the act required self-incrimination, which violated his Fifth Amendment rights. (The self-incrimination clause provides various protections against self-incrimination, including the right of an individual to not serve as a witness in a criminal case in which they are the defendant, better known as “Pleading the Fifth.” The court’s unanimous opinion of the court was penned by Justice John Marshall Harlan II and declared the Marihuana Tax Act unconstitutional. Therefore, Leary’s conviction was overturned.

1970: The Controlled Substances Act is enacted (replacing the unconstitutional Marihuana Tax Act). Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, thereby prohibiting its use for any purpose. This act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. 

This legislation created five classifications, with specific qualifications for a substance to be included in each. The substances scheduling (classification) are determined by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet, Congress does have the power to schedule or de-schedule substances through legislation. Substance scheduling decisions are based on its potential for abuse, accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and international treaties.

Classification of Controlled Substances:

Schedule I: High potential of abuse, not acceptable for medical use

Schedule II: High potential of abuse, sometimes allowed with “severe restrictions” for medical use

Schedule II: Medium potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule IV: Moderate potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule V: Lowest potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

1984-1986: Mandatory Sentencing and the three-strikes law were created under the Reagan Administration. This accounts for some of the harshest drug laws designed, including mandatory 25-year imprisonment for certain drug offenses and the death penalty’s promotion against “drug kingpins.”

1998: House Joint Resolution 117, encouraged by the passing of California’s Prop 215, the House of Representatives passed this measure to support the existing Federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of certain drugs.  

2006: Rhode Island legalizes SB 710, Medical Marijuana for qualified patients

2009: Rhode Island becomes the second state (behind California) to introduce its cannabis dispensary program for medical marijuana patients. 

2011-2020: Rhode Island General Assembly fails all recreational cannabis bills 

2014: The Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment passed in the U.S. House and signed into law prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

2016: Rhode Island expands its medical marijuana program, adding to the list of qualifying conditions

2018: Rhode Island expands its medical marijuana program granting families access to treatment for autism. 

2018: Farm bill legalizes low-THC hemp nationwide and effectively de-schedules hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act. 

2019: Rhode Island opens its third medical marijuana dispensary 

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