Many Rhode Islanders are up in arms over the failure of legislators to pass any form of recreational cannabis reform. In fact, the current administration seems quite content with letting Massachusetts capitalize on the recreational market, while they focus on overhauling the profitable medical program that currently exists in the state. This overhaul will be implemented through the proposed budget for 2018, which aims to pass legislation to discourage home grows and drive patients to one of fifteen medical dispensaries throughout the state.

According to an article posted on WPRI.com (on January 5th, 2018), Norman Birenbaum stated as much. “The goal is to have more home growers buy their cannabis from the centers,” which he says are safer and more quality-controlled. “Home grows can often be dangerous… are not always compliant with building codes… and marijuana at the dispensaries is tested for mold, mildew, pesticides and contaminants.”

Birenbaum, who oversees the marijuana program at the RI Department of Business Regulation, believes that the increased competition from additional compassion centers will drive down pricing. If this is true, and a reduced plant count for home grows inflates production costs (which is expected to happen), then this plan could potentially put local care givers out of business. The only course of action for these independent growers will be to procure employment from one of the local approved cultivators or to move their operations elsewhere. Even more so, this will limit access and availability to the many patients in need. Fortunately for them, and the tens of thousands of other Rhode islanders, who are hungry for a recreational cannabis market in their state, Massachusetts is only a short drive away.

Massachusetts looks to not only gain millions in potential recreational sales from these moves, but to also steal away some of the industries most talented growers. And even though RI is moving to accept medical cards from existing programs in other states, there won’t be much of a need for Mass cardholders to travel across the border after commercial sales begin this July. So the real question is, how does RI benefit from such a maneuver?

Access to medicine, though better regulated, will still be limited in comparison to the current system which allows for caregivers and patients to grow their own medicine while still being able to keep costs manageable. With the inflated taxes, mandatory testing, and multitude of other fees associated with compassion center operations, many believe that medicine from home grows will still be less expensive.

If legislators are creative, they can use this opportunity to turn RI into a mecca for medical patients everywhere. This could be done through a state run health care program that caters to cannabis patients on a national level, offering discounted medicine to enrolled patients, much like a standard health insurance program does. Invest in education and setup a state of the art facility where all aspects of the cannabis plant and the industry are researched and taught. Legislators could also set RI up as a sanctuary for patients, offering protection from federal drug enforcement and prosecution. Either way, the relative value in comparison to a regulated and taxed recreational market is minuscule.

Let’s hope that the Rhode Island legislature has something up their sleeve. Because the green rush is not going to last forever. And as my good friend Ricky Bobby once said, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

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