By Keith Mansur
Oregon Cannabis Connection
Rhode Island is a tiny state. The smallest in the nation, in fact, by almost a million square miles. The population is just over a million, which ranks 43rd, just behind New Hampshire. As far as medical cannabis patients go, they have nearly 18,000 now, which is more than triple their total four years ago when they decided to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. Currently, they only have three medical marijuana dispensaries in the entire state, and the legislature is considering expanding that to six.
But, the current medical marijuana dispensaries are opposing the increase, pointing directly to their bottom line as the reason. They fear that the increase in competition will destroy what they have built, along with the home-grow laws the state has adopted.
The current dispensaries are in Providence, Warwick, and Portsmouth. Rhode Island has the fewest dispensaries to serve patients in any state—one for every 5919 patients. Neighboring Massachusetts has 35 access points and has about 34,000 registered patients, which is one dispensary for every 971 patients.
The new legislation is welcomed by those wishing to enter the market, which is believed to continue increasing dramatically for the foreseeable future. The Providence Journal reports:
“If you look at patient growth, we’re growing at 4,000 to 5,000 patients a year. Nothing suggests that will cap,” said Bill Fischer, a lobbyist representing brothers Jamie and Joshua DeSousa, who hope to open the Blackstone Valley Compassion Center if the expansion bill passes. Fischer said there are a number of factors in play, including geographic need and high cost. Medical marijuana can sell for as much as $350 an ounce at dispensaries.
“There’s also the political plight of the [marijuana legalization] bill,” Fischer said, referring to speculation that the legalization push is dead this year. Legalization of recreational marijuana “could have provided increased competition and resulted in a lower cost for the patient community.
“That increasingly looks like it’s not going to be the case,” Fischer said. “The time for more compassion centers is now. It’s inevitable.”
But, new data collected shows that around 45,000 plants are being grown by patients or their designated caregivers. All the dispensaries combined are only growing 4,000 plants. The opponents of the new licensing legislation believe there is an imbalance that will affect their bottom line.
Existing operators are pushing back hard against the proposed changes in Senate Bill 176. They believe that the large number of homegrown plants, combined with more licensed dispensaries, will reduce the demand, and ultimately hurt their business.
“If you pass a bill that allows another compassion center to open up in Newport County or Bristol County, Greenleaf in Portsmouth will go out of business,” Seth Bock, the CEO of Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center to a Senate panel earlier in May.
“Where is the data to show that there is an unmet need?” Chris Reilly, a lobbyist for Thomas C. Slater Center in Providence. “Unless the very liberal home-grow provision is addressed, there will continue to be an imbalance … All it does is add new centers to the limited pool of patients that use compassion centers in the first place.”
In 2016, the state raised over $686,000 in taxes on $17.2 million in sales. The current year is on pace to do over $2.3 million a month on average which should bring in an annual total of around $28 million in revenue and well over $1 million in taxes.
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