Susan J.


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Medical Marijuana in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act

The Rhode Island Legislature enacted the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana law on January 3, 2006. This law protects registered medical marijuana patients and their caregivers from arrest and jail for growing, obtaining and acquiring cannabis. The RI Medical Marijuana program includes 8 diseases and 5 qualifying conditions: Alzheimer's, HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Crohn's, epilepsy, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, or any debilitating, chronic condition that produces spasms, wasting, seizures or severe pain or nausea. This law had a "sunset clause" and on June 21, 2007, the legislature made this law permanent.

A medical practitioner must recommend that medicating with cannabis will do more good than harm for the patient's condition before a patient can receive a RI Department of Health registered card.

"A practitioner shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including, but not limited to, civil penalty or disciplinary action by the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline -- solely for providing written certifications or for otherwise stating that, in the practitioner's professional opinion, the potential benefits of the medical marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for a patient." (RIGL 21-28.6-4)

Applications are available at:


Caregivers (who are trusted friends or family members of patients who agree to help provide, cultivate or obtain medical marijuana for the patient if they are not able to grow themselves) may not apply directly for their registered card into the program. A maximum of two caregivers may be appointed by patients on their application and can be added/dropped with a change form.

Within about 3 weeks or 15 business days of receiving a completed application, the Department of Health will issue an ID card and at that time a patient is covered by the law. Cards expire after two years.

RI also has reciprocity, which means that cardholding patients from any of the other 13 states that have medical marijuana programs shall be protected under the RI law while in Rhode Island. Michigan and Montana are the only other states with this reciprocity.

There was one issue with the passing of the original legislation: patients did not have safe, affordable access to their medicine even though they were protected to possess, cultivate, obtain and medicate. The RI Legislature amended the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana act by overriding the governor's veto on June, 16, 2009 and it included a not-for-profit, state regulated, store front dispensary called a "Compassion Center."

This amendment stated that the Department of Health will license a maximum of 3 Compassion Centers to grow and distribute medical marijuana for an unlimited number of patients. The first Compassion Center will be licensed in 2010, and two more in 2011 with the Department regulating such things as the Compassion Centers' record-keeping and security.

Before this amendment, licensed patients were allowed 12 plants, regardless of stage of growth. Now, patients are allowed 12 mature plants ("plant which has flowers or buds that are readily observable by an unaided visual examination"), 12 immature plants ("plant with no observable flowers or buds") and 2.5 ounces of useable cannabis. Caregivers are also allowed 12 immature plants, regardless of how many mature plants they are allowed and cardholders may also now possess a "reasonable" amount of seeds, stalks, and roots, which do not count toward the 2.5-ounce limit or the plant limit.

Other changes in the new amendment include: Connecticut and Massachusetts physicians are now able to recommend cannabis for RI patients; any licensed cardholder may "gift" or give away medical marijuana to any other licensed patient or caregiver, as long as they don't exceed their possession limits (12 mature plants, 12 immature plants and 2.5 ounces); patients cannot be denied an organ transplant just because they use medical marijuana.

Applications are available at:


The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC) is a nonprofit organization comprised of local medical marijuana patients, caregivers, doctors, advocacy groups, and others who are interested in medical marijuana.

RIPAC advances discourse, research, and policy related to medical marijuana in four main areas: patient advocacy, professional education, research, and policy development.

ADVOCACY: RIPAC was formed to advocate for patients and the caregivers of those patients who experience therapeutic relief from the use of marijuana. RIPAC works to protect the medical use of marijuana under state law by facilitating dialogue among patients, medical professionals, law enforcement, and policymakers.

EDUCATION: RIPAC is committed to educating the public and health professionals about the scientific attributes of marijuana and the legal status of such use.

RESEARCH: RIPAC is committed to promoting and facilitating marijuana research because we understand that research is crucial to the appropriate medical use of marijuana.

POLICY: RIPAC also works to educate RI policymakers during the development, passage, and implementation of RI medical marijuana legislation and programs. By involving patients, advocates, and their physicians in the policy process, RIPAC hopes to help create medical marijuana systems that are responsive to patients' needs.