Cannabis in Rhode Island

In the U.S. state of Rhode Island, marijuana has been legal statewide for medical use, within state regulations, since 2006. However, the possession of marijuana for recreational use remains illegal. Several proposals to legalize the drug have been advanced in the Rhode Island General Assembly, but none have succeeded.


Rhode Island first banned the sale of cannabis without a prescription in 1918.[1]:475

As of 2012, Rhode Island had some of the strictest mandatory minimums for large-scale cannabis possession in the United States. Possession of more than 5 kg results in a sentence of 20 years' imprisonment and fines of between $25,000 and $100,000.[2]

Legalization proposals

Bills to legalize marijuana have been introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly every year since 2011, but have to date been "held for further study" with no action.[3]

The group Regulate Rhode Island (the state affiliate of the Marijuana Policy Project) advocates for legalization.[3]

Following the success of recreational cannabis ballot initiatives in four states and the District of Columbia in 2012 and 2014, advocates in Rhode Island, where there is no public ballot initiative process, pressed their legislature to allow a public vote on legalizing recreational cannabis. In 2016 advocates cited a recent Brown University poll showing 55% of state residents support legalization.[3]

Medical marijuana

In 2006 Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana, becoming the eleventh state to do so.[4] The legislation was passed the year in 2005, wijning approval in the state House by a vote of 52-10 and the state Senate by a vote of 33-1.[5] Republican Governor Don Carcieri vetoed the legislation,[6] but the Legislature overrode the veto, by a vote of 59–13 in the state House[4] and 28-6 in the state Senate.[7]

Under Rhode Island law, "Approved Qualifying Debilitating Medical Conditions" for medical marijuana are: cancer, glacoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, or a "chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following": cachexia (wasting syndrome); "severe, debilitating, chronic pain"; "severe nausea"; epilepsy or other seizures; "severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease"; and Alzheimer's disease-related agitation.[8]

In June 2009, Rhode Island introduced a cannabis dispensary system, making them the second state nationwide (after California) to do so.[9]

In October 2016, there were 15,470 patients in Rhode Island, along with three dispensaries (which are permitted to grow marijuana for their patients' use).[10]

Religious use

The Healing Church of Rhode Island is a Rhode Island-based religious sect whose adherents believe that marijuana is a "holy herb" and use it in religious rituals.[11] Leaders of the group attracted attention in 2015 for attempting to smoke marijuana in front of the Roger Williams National Memorial (a memorial to Roger Williams, a pioneer of religious freedom) as part of a religious service.[11][12] The following year, two leaders of the group were arrested and charged in connection with a marijuana grow operation.[11] Days before the arrest, the pair had filed a lawsuit in federal district court, contending that enforcement of state anti-marijuana laws against those who use marijuana for religious purposes violates the U.S. Constitution.[13]

See also


  1. United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency (1977). Marijuana decriminalization: hearing before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Ninety-fourth Congress, first session, pursuant to S. Res. 72, section 12, Investigation of juvenile delinquency in the United States, S. 1450 ... May 14, 1975. U.S. Government Printing Office.
  2. Jonathan P. Caulkins; Angela Hawken; Beau Kilmer; Mark Kleiman (14 June 2012). Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know?. Oxford University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-19-994288-6.
  3. 1 2 3 Bogdan, Jennifer (2 June 2016). "Marijuana advocates demand vote on legalization". Providence Journal.
  4. 1 2 Gitlow, Stuart (2007). Substance Use Disorders: A Practical Guide. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-7817-6998-3.
  5. Katie Zezima, In Rhode Island, Uncertainty About Medical Marijuana Law, New York Times (June 30, 2005).
  6. Marijuana Bill Vetoed in R.I., Associated Press (June 30, 2005).
  7. Siddharth Chandra & Aaron Swoboda, "Are Spatial Variables Important? The Case for Markets of Multiple Drugs in British Bengal" in Geography and Drug Addiction (eds. Yonette F. Thomas, Douglas Richardson & Ivan Cheung: Springer, 2008), p. 241.
  8. Medical Marijuana, Rhode Island Department of Health (accessed November 14, 2016).
  9. Morgan, Kayla (1 September 2010). Legalizing Marijuana. ABDO Publishing Company. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-61787-384-3.
  10. Jennifer Bogdan & Tom Mooney, R.I. emergency regulations create new category to supply medical marijuana dispensaries, Providence Journals (October 26, 2016).
  11. 1 2 3 Members of Rhode Island cannabis church arrested on marijuana charges, WJAR (Sinclair Broadcast Group) (July 20, 2016).
  12. Matt Reed, "Healing Church" holds cannabis ceremony in Providence, WJAR (Sinclair Broadcast Group) (May 24, 2015).
  13. Paul Edward Parker, Leaders of Healing Church filed federal lawsuit days before their arrest on marijuana charges, Providence Journal (July 20, 2016).
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