Rhode Island Cannabis Update: Cannabis Commission Confirmed and New Retail Advertising Guidelines Released

By Meg Nash

Jun 28, 2023

Since the Rhode Island Cannabis Act (RICA) was signed into law in May 2022, Ocean State citizens have been eagerly awaiting the appointment and confirmation of the members of the Cannabis Control Commission. That day finally came on June 13, 2023, when the Rhode Island Senate unanimously confirmed Robert Jacquard, Olayiwola Oduyingbo and Kimberly Ahern as the state’s commission members. The wait now begins for new regulations and a new licensing round.

Pursuant to RICA, the commission is tasked with overseeing the regulation, licensing and control of the adult use and medical cannabis market in Rhode Island. Their duties include determining and establishing the process and methodology by which licenses will be awarded, although RICA offers a framework for the upcoming licensing round. Specifically, RICA states that the Commission may grant up to 24 retail licenses. During a recent interview, Commissioner Ahern indicated her hope that licenses would begin to issue in 2024. Retail licenses will be specific to six separate geographic zones, and no more than four adult-use retail licenses will be permitted in each zone.

Qualifying as a Worker’s Cooperative Applicant or Social Equity Applicant in Rhode Island’s Cannabis Industry

Of the four licenses available in each geographic zone, one will be reserved for a worker's cooperative applicant, and one reserved for a social equity applicant.

A worker's cooperative applicant is defined as an applicant organized and operated pursuant to Rhode Island General Laws s. 7-6.2, which is democratically controlled and operated by its workers.

Social equity applicants must satisfy at least one of the following criteria, as well as any additional factors or specifications included in the final rules and regulations:

  • An applicant with at least 51% ownership and control by one or more individuals who have resided for at least five of the preceding 10 years in a disproportionately impacted area.

  • An applicant with at least 51% ownership and control by one or more individuals who:

    • Have been arrested for, convicted of, or adjudicated delinquent for any offense that is eligible for expungement under this chapter; or

    • Is a member of an impacted family.

  • For applicants with a minimum of 10 full-time employees, an applicant with at least 51% of current employees who:

    • Currently reside in a disproportionately impacted area; or

    • Have been arrested for, convicted of, or adjudicated delinquent for any offense that is eligible for expungement under this chapter or is a member of an impacted family.

  • Can demonstrate significant past experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in disproportionally impacted areas.

  • Had income that does not exceed 400% of the median income, as defined by the Commission, in a disproportionally impacted area for at least five of the past 10 years.

Location and Zoning Restrictions for Rhode Island Cannabis Establishments

RICA also expressly requires applicants to identify the location of the proposed retail establishment as part of the initial application. The site cannot be located within 500 feet of a pre-existing public or private school providing education in kindergarten or any of grades one through 12 unless a city or town adopts an ordinance or by-law that reduces the distance requirement. Additional zoning restrictions may apply based on the municipality. The manner in which licenses will be awarded has not yet been determined. The most recent award of licenses was made through a lottery process.

Advertising Guidelines for Rhode Island Hybrid Cannabis Licensees

Pending the transfer of authority to the commission, the Office of Cannabis Regulation (OCR) will continue to oversee the cannabis industry in Rhode Island. OCR recently issued advertising guidance for hybrid licensees arising out of 2023 House Bill 5829/Senate Bill 1009, signed by Governor McKee on June 19, 2023. Under this new legislation, hybrid retail licensees are now permitted to advertise via online media, broadcast media, print media, and outdoor media, including billboards. All advertisements must feature the required universal symbol for cannabis, the Medical Marijuana Program license number, and state “For Ages 21+ and medical cannabis patients.”  Additional content restrictions apply.

Vicente LLP will continue to provide updates on the Rhode Island market as the state releases further guidance. If you would like to learn more about industry developments in Rhode Island, contact Meg Nash.

The content and links provided on this page are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal or tax advice. Viewing this page does not establish an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with a qualified legal professional for advice regarding any particular issue or problem. The contents of this page may be considered attorney advertising under certain rules of professional conduct.