Today, Rhode Island lawmakers are voting on a budget that would shock the state’s medical marijuana industry. The state budget proposal would increase licensing fees by 5,000 percent. This means that every year, Rhode Island dispensaries would have to pay $250,000 to keep their licenses. Rhode Island may soon be the most expensive place to own a dispensary in New England.
The Existing Dispensary Licensing Program
Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana in 2006. But today, there are only three dispensaries and 18 marijuana growers. In 2017, the state saw a 33 percent increase in the number of medical marijuana patients according to the Providence Journal. This brings the total number of registered patients to 18,848.
Today, the licensing renewal fee for a dispensary is $5,000. This legislation also stops anyone from opening a dispensary, capping the number at three. For Rhode Island’s dispensaries, this is great for business. These three dispensaries have a monopoly over Rhode Island’s increasing medical marijuana customers.
The Governor Wanted To Increase The Number of Dispensaries
Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal hopes to make big changes to the state’s marijuana laws. In the first iteration of the budget, Raimondo’s office proposed licensing 15 additional dispensaries. Per The Olympian, the governor’s goal was to increase state revenue by $5 million.
But, the Rhode Island House quickly rejected this part of the proposal. Though the state only has three dispensaries, lawmakers argued that Rhode Islanders have the same access to medical marijuana as other states.
There are a little over 1 million people living in The Ocean State. Massachusetts and Connecticut have 7 million and 3.5 million residents, respectively. By comparison, Connecticut has nine dispensaries, Massachusetts has twenty-nine, Vermont has five, New Hampshire has four and Maine has eight.
Dispensaries Will Pay 5,000 Percent More In Licensing Fees
Today, the House will vote on the final draft of the state budget. It proposes to increase annual licensing fees from $5,000 to $250,000. This sum is significantly higher than New Hampshire’s $80,000 annual licensing fee, which is the region’s second highest. However, New Hampshire will most likely be reducing fees.
In Massachusetts, dispensaries pay $50,000 annually—Rhode Island’s would be four times as much. Additionally, fees add up to $5,000 in Connecticut, $25,000 in Vermont and $12,000 in Maine.
One Dispensary Is Happy To Pay More Fees
Chris Reilly, the spokesperson from the Slater Center, the state’s biggest dispensary, spoke to the company’s willingness to support the government. He explained to the House, “If there is a way to find the $5 million that you need to plug the budget hole that you need for the coming fiscal year, we’d like to be part of the solution.”
But they will only help at a price: the state must keep the number of dispensaries at three. Recreational marijuana in Massachusetts will add competition, and Rhode Island’s biggest weed shop doesn’t want more dispensaries popping up south of the state border.
Though a $250,000 annual fee is unheard of, it could help one dispensary create a medical marijuana monopoly.