Not an actual picture of the Rhode Island lottery balls but maybe this gives you an emotional understanding of what the balls go through. Credit: Dylan Nolte / Unsplash

The winners of five coveted medical cannabis licenses in Rhode Island face a tight deadline before they must open their respective dispensaries. Local zoning approvals, hiring and covering the costs of a delayed lottery have all of the winners scrambling to meet a nine-month deadline.

The five licenses were selected by the Department of Business Regulation (DBR) on Oct. 29, in a televised lottery that featured a blind-folded man selecting lottery balls out of a casino tumbler. The DBR oversees medical cannabis regulation in the state.

“The process was the process. It was a cumbersome labor intensive app process. I think that was a good thing,” said Nicholas Hemond, a board member for the Solar Therapeutics Rhode Island and the attorney who prepared the team’s application. “It left it to the serious operators who could get that done.”

Solar Therapeutics won a license for a proposed medical dispensary in Cranston..

“Nine months is a tight timeline,” said Hemond. “We have to get a special use permit, and that’s at least two-to-three months in and of itself – if it goes quickly.”

The lottery’s delay also took a toll on applicants that had to extend control over properties for prospective locations. This was also the case for Solar Therapeutics, which already has dispensaries in Massachusetts.

“There was certainly additional expenses tying up the land whether it’s a lease or a letter of intent,” he said. “I think pretty much everybody is in that same boat,” he said. “The delays that ensued certainly had an impact, but Solar Therapies, they’re a larger organization.”

Green Wave, RMI Compassion, Pinnacle, and Plant Based were all selected for “compassion center” licenses, which is the term used by the state for medical cannabis dispensaries.

The winning applicants, particularly the ones without the support of operations in other states, must also grapple with financing in an industry that many banks are skeptical of. The state requires the winners to put up $500,000 for their annual licensing fee. 

“You can’t operate a business without capital,” said Christopher Sands of Green Wave. “In order to get capital you need a bank account, you’ve got to get vetted by every bank upside down and you also have the DBR that wants to see your plans and where you’re going.”

Green Wave plans to open a dispensary in Foster, Rhode Island, which is on the Connecticut border west of Providence. Sands said he was happy with the process but that he expects it to be a challenge to get up and running by next summer.

“It’s a little bit of a challenge. you can only do so much to get your application to fruition with expenditures,” said Sands. “You’re not going to build out a building or hire architects and engineers unless you know you’re going to have a license.”

Sands is not exactly new to the cannabis industry. He opened a licensed cultivation site in the southwest corner of Rhode Island over a year ago. Despite the difficulty of the nine-month deadline for his storefront, Sands stressed that he was generally happy with how the DBR was running the state medical cannabis program.

“I’ve worked with them for years. They are 100 times better than they were five years ago. They’ve really stepped it up,” he said. “They’re a hell of a lot easier to work with than they used to be.”

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...