Businesses seeking to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island have submitted 45 applications for only six licenses, according to officials from the state Department of Business Regulation. More than two dozen companies submitted applications, many of them for more than one of the coveted licenses for compassion centers, as medical marijuana dispensaries are officially referred to in Rhode Island.
Medical marijuana was legalized in Rhode Island in 2006, but currently the entire state is only served by three licensed dispensaries, located in the cities of Providence, Warwick, and Portsmouth. Under a state law passed last year, six more compassion centers will be licensed, one in each of six geographic zones defined by the legislation. The zones were included in the law to ensure that access to medical marijuana is available to patients throughout the state.
In all, 28 businesses have submitted a total of 45 applications, at a cost of $10,000 per application. Ten companies have submitted applications for more than one zone, although each entity will only be allowed to receive one license, even if they are selected more than once in a lottery that will be held to award the licenses. Applicants that are awarded the dispensary licenses will not be permitted to grow their own marijuana unless they are also already a licensed cultivator.
Currently, the existing three compassion centers cultivate cannabis for their operations. Their production is supplemented by an additional 63 cultivators, which are only permitted to sell their crop to licensed dispensaries. Spencer Blier, the operator of a licensed cultivation facility in Warwick, has applied for a dispensary license in two of the six zones.
“There was [sic] a ton of cultivators and only three stores, so upping that from three to nine is definitely going to benefit all the cultivators in Rhode Island,” said Blier.
Lottery For Licenses Expected Next Year
The lottery to award the licenses has not yet been scheduled, but is expected to occur early in 2021. The lottery system was implemented by the administration of Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo in an effort to avoid any appearance of favoritism or impropriety in the awarding of the licenses.
“I don’t want any special deals for special people, I don’t want any insider deals, I don’t want any legislative meddling, I don’t want politicians making these decisions, myself included,” Raimondo said in an interview with local media last year. “You see the lobbyists, you see the people here in the building all the time … it’s too tempting.”
Blier said that while he understands the reasons behind the lottery, he would have preferred a merit-based system or one that gave preference to local companies over operators from out of state.
“In really trying to make sure there’s no back-door deals going down, they also handicapped local Rhode Island companies,” Blier said.
Before the lottery is held, state regulators will review each application to ensure that applicants have met all requirements, which include submitting detailed financial information and proof that a property that complies with all zoning regulations for a compassion center has been secured. Once selected, each licensee will be required to pay a $500,000 annual licensing fee.