Cannabis: Governor’s Budget

In the recently released copy of Governor Raimondo’s budget, many changes to the state’s medical marijuana program were proposed. While these proposed changes will more than likely be altered, they offer a glimpse into the state’s vision of the future of marijuana. If approved, the changes will go into effect July 1, 2018.

Acute Pain

The condition of acute pain has been added to the list of qualifying conditions, with a maximum card expiration date of six months. Patients receiving a card under this qualification may not register or appoint a personal caregiver or authorized purchaser, or purchase plant tags to grow themselves, leaving them with the only option of purchasing from compassion centers. This addition will be a big deal for patients recovering from surgery; many surgeons and physicians don’t feel comfortable signing the paperwork for a medical marijuana card if they know their patient’s pain will be temporary. This offers patients an alternative way to manage their post-op pain, and will be a relief for many because of the current opioid epidemic. The budget’s definition of acute pain is as follows:

“the normal, predicted physiological response to a noxious chemical, thermal or mechanical stimulus and typically is associated with invasive procedures, trauma and disease. Acute pain generally is resulting from nociceptor activation due to damage to tissues. Acute pain typically resolves once the tissue damage is repaired. The duration of acute pain varies.”

Patient Plant Count and Limits

Patients were previously allowed to have 12 plants in the vegetative phase and 12 in the flowering phase, as well as up to 2.5oz of dried usable marijuana flower, or equivalent in concentrates or edibles. The proposed budget would reduce plant counts to eight vegetative and eight flowering, but increase the dried flower limit to 3 ounces.

Manufacturer Licenses

Under the budget, a new license class would be created. Manufacturers would be able to purchase bulk marijuana flower or trim from cultivators for the purpose of manufacturing and extracting. These groups would produce edibles and concentrates like CO2 oil.

Compassion Centers

According to the new budget, the state would approve 12 new compassion centers, bringing the total up to 15. Even if the final budget cuts this increase in half, it will still be a huge service to towns in western Rhody where some patients have to drive more than an hour to get to the nearest center. The budget includes language that states they will be taking consideration of patients in “underserved areas” when approving new licenses, so a more even distribution of compassion centers is seemingly on the horizon. Compassion centers would also be forced to acquire cultivation and manufacturing licenses if they wish to perform those operations.

This leaves the door open for compassion center licensees to simply purchase their product from existing cultivators or manufacturers, the way that many recreational dispensaries in Colorado operate. These types of centers would be up and running far sooner than those seeking to produce their own products. The application fee for new compassion centers was increased dramatically, from $250 to $10,000, presumably to narrow the number of applications to those seriously invested.

Marijuana Emporiums

The budget also prohibits “marijuana emporiums,” which the state defines as “any establishment, or club, whether for-profit or nonprofit, or any commercial unit or other premises… at which the sale, distribution, transfer or use of medical marijuana or medical marijuana products is proposed and/or occurs to, by or among registered patients, registered caregivers, authorized purchaser cardholders or other persons.”

This section of the budget seems to specifically target the Tetra Hydro Club, the only entity in the state currently that could be labeled as a “marijuana emporium.” Located in the old Campus Cinema in Wakefield, THC hosts events like comedy nights and concerts, where members pay a yearly fee and can use their medical cannabis on-site. You must be a RIMMP patient to join, and the private sale of cannabis from member to member is prohibited, though patients can share and donate product legally under the current legislation. The club’s owner has already spoken out against this part of the bill, and there will surely be a large effort to remove it from the budget.

This prohibition touches on the gray area of the law, where it isn’t quite clear where patients can and cannot use or possess their medicine. The law currently states that it prohibits the smoking of marijuana in the following places: in a school bus or other form of public transportation; on any school grounds; in any correctional facility; in any public place; in any licensed drug treatment facility in this state; or where exposure to the marijuana smoke significantly adversely affects the health, safety or welfare of children. However, a private club that is not exclusively for the purpose of cannabis use, but allows the possession and use on site for valid patients, seems to fall within legal boundaries. Hopefully there will be more clarification on this subject as the budget progresses.