A grow room for East Coast Cultivation in Warwick, RI..

After years of patience from Rhode Island’s cannabis cultivators, the opening of the state’s adult use market is less than two months away, despite the fact that Rhode Island is even more months away from forming its Cannabis Control Commission.

Last week, the state’s Department of Business Regulation issued applications for hybrid cannabis retailers. These licenses are exclusively available to the state’s nine existing medical cannabis dispensary license holders. Without a CCC-crafted regulatory process for new retail operators, the nine operators will get first crack at the state’s adult use market. 

Medical cannabis was legalized in Rhode Island in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the state’s first dispensaries, dubbed compassion centers, opened for business. Three years later, with just three vertically-integrated compassion centers in operation, the state created the cultivation license to allow independent operators to feed into the medical market through wholesale flower and manufacturing, both of which were covered by the cultivator license type. 

Rhode Island officially legalized adult use cannabis after Governor Dan McKee signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act on May 25, 2022. That act immediately started the 40-day window in which the governor was supposed to appoint three members to the newly-formed Cannabis Control Commission. As per the legislation, one of the governor’s three selections must come from a short list of candidates provided by the Speaker of the House. Then all three candidates are vetted and approved by the Senate. 

Despite the legislative deadlines, the appointments did not happen before the legislature went into recess for the year. Reportedly, the governor’s office has said those appointments would not happen until early 2023.

“This is something that we’ve been waiting for close to six years now,” said Karen Ballou-Murray, CFO of Cultivating RI. “It’s all coming together and it’s coming together really fast. It’s a great thing.”

Currently, Rhode Island has 66 active cultivation licenses, which does include operators to solely process cannabis purchased wholesale from other producers. Cultivating RI is one of 40 license holders that were also awarded a hybrid license this summer. 

When the state originally expanded licensing to cultivators there was an assumption that cultivators were preparing for the adult use market. Through a cycle of under-production to over-production, the cultivators have had to be patient.  

“We’re all optimistic. This is something that all of us cultivators have been waiting for,” said Ballou-Murray “When they get all the new regulations out, I don’t think they’re gonna be much different from what we have now.”

Since then, many operators have reduced their levels of production, which means they now have more room to grow into the adult use market. 

“I think we will have a good supply. Out of all those licenses, not everybody is fully built out,” said Ballou-Murray. “We’re in the process of now building out another room to support the adult market. A lot of the cultivators are building out”

When the state previously allowed for the creation of new compassion center licenses, there was some concern among cultivators about those new licenses allowed vertically-integrated operations. Ballou-Murray said she was not worried about retailers being able to cultivate, since they will still likely need variety. 

“If you go into Stop and Shop, you don’t just see Stop and Shop products on the shelves,” she said. 

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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...