No Medical Marijuana Near You? Rhode Island Sells to Out-of-Staters.

by | July 31, 2018

By Tom Mooney

While lawmakers last month rejected adding more medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, one surviving component of the legislation has quietly begun: sales to out-of-state residents.

All three Rhode Island dispensaries report summer business from nonresident medical marijuana patients since the measure went into effect June 22.

Seth Bock, CEO of the Greenleaf Compassion Care Center, in Portsmouth, and Chris Reilly, a spokesman for the state's largest dispensary, the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, in Providence, said their dispensaries had both seen almost 50 nonresident customers in recent weeks.

Napoleon Brito, general manager of the Summit Medical Compassion Center, in Warwick, said about a dozen such customers had shopped at the dispensary.

The intent of opening sales to nonresidents wasn't to boost business for the dispensaries but to allow visiting patients "to lawfully obtain medical marijuana so they didn't have to illegally traffic it in or obtain it in our black market," said Norman Birenbaum, the state's top medical-marijuana regulator.

The majority of Summit's out-of-state customers came from Massachusetts, said Brito. Greenleaf, the closest dispensary to the tourist center of Newport, had seen people from several other states as well. (Recreational marijuana sales became legal in Massachusetts on July 1, but the state's rollout has been slow.)

At Summit, Brito said one customer did present a California medical marijuana card, which can be easily obtained online in a matter of minutes, raising regulatory concerns that the cardholder could actually be from somewhere else and unqualified to buy medical cannabis.

But Brito said the dispensary also requires out-of-state customers to show a second photo ID, and in this case the customer had a valid California driver's license.

The Department of Business Regulation issued guidelines for the state's three dispensaries last month about selling medical marijuana to nonresidents.

Those guidelines urge dispensaries to use "reasonable good faith efforts" to verify that each nonresident patient holds a valid medical marijuana card from their state by showing a second form of government-issued photo id.

As with Rhode Island patients, nonresident patients must also fill out a form, be entered into a database that tracks transactions and are limited to how much marijuana they can buy -- 2.5 ounces of dried pot or its equivalent in other forms, every 15 days.

Gov. Gina Raimondo had proposed as many as 12 additional pot dispensaries for the state's 18,365 patients in the legislative session that ended late last month.

But legislative leaders were unconvinced of the need. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said then that the proposal would have created far too many centers: "I don't know what the right number is, but the whole system needs a comprehensive review before taking any further action. I don't want to make a decision that may have to be pulled back."

Birenbaum said Thursday that state business regulators were exploring ways to allow the dispensaries to offer delivery service for their patients.

But first they had to create a workable tracking system. And Summit and Greenleaf were also facing a challenge that made a foray into delivery unlikely: the suspension of debit-card processing by financial institutions that had handled such transactions until January, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lifted a restraint on federal prosecutors interfering in states where marijuana is legal.

Birenbaum said marijuana delivery service would require purchases made in advance and by bank card since cash transactions would be unsafe.

(c)2018 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)