R.I. cannabis retailers confident as recreational sales officially begin

CUSTOMERS place orders during the first day of recreational cannabis sales at the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence. / PBN PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

PROVIDENCE – Local dispensaries were confident Thursday that Rhode Island can now compete against neighboring states that had a head start in the industry as a steady stream of customers ushered in the start of recreational sales.

“Our potential audience has grown by three or four-fold,” said Chris Reilly, a spokesperson for the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence. “Now it’s upon us to entice those folks in and see what we’re all about.”

On Thursday, the Slater Center became one of five businesses, all of which were preexisting medical dispensaries, to begin legal recreational cannabis sales in the Ocean State.

Aura of Rhode Island in Central Falls, Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket and RISE Warwick in Warwick also began recreational sales on Thursday. Other cannabis businesses that were not already licensed to sell medical marijuana, will have to wait for the state to form its Cannabis Control Commission, which has been a delayed process, before they can commence sales.

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Rhode Island became the 19th state to legalize recreational cannabis sales in May, following in the footsteps of Massachusetts, where recreational sales began in late 2018, and Connecticut, which followed suit in summer 2021.

Shortly before noon, the Slater Center was experiencing near its typical level of activity, Reilly said, with customers steadily streaming in without a wait.

Out-of-state establishments — particularly those in Massachusetts —have created “extensive competition” for Rhode Island dispensaries, Reilly said.

“If you look no further than some billboards you might see along the highway, and a number of stores that are located in bordering communities, there’s certainly been a regional competitive threat for Rhode Island stores up until this point,” he added.

While some industry observers have said this competition could mean trouble for Rhode Island cannabis businesses, Reilly wasn’t overly concerned.

“It’s just like any retail marketplace,” he said. “The things that are going to matter are the quality of the product, the convenience of the location, the helpfulness of the staff and price.”

Reilly also believes local customers will appreciate having an in-state option.

“With the advent of adult use sales, people who are seeping over the border into those Massachusetts stores can stay here,” he said. “They no longer have to travel over the border. They can keep the tax dollars here in Rhode Island.”

But going forward, there’s more that state leaders can do to help cannabis retailers, he said, noting that Rhode Island and Massachusetts currently have the same tax strucutre, with a 20% all-in sales tax.

“There’s parity there, which I think is important,” Reilly said. “It would be great if leaders in our state could get us on more competitive footing, and hopefully that will happen in the future.”

At the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth, Retail Director Jordan Boucher reported “a healthy line of Rhode Island residents who are ready to shop,” as well as some customers from Massachusetts.

A sense of local loyalty and in-state sourcing helps to attract customers, Boucher added.

“Rhode Island has the best products hands down, the best cultivators,” he said. “Massachusetts kind of exploded very quickly, and a lot of multi-state operators came in and got involved. I think Rhode Island is still very ‘mom and pop,’ if you will.”

This in-state support rang true for Matthew Doyle, one of the store’s customers on Thursday.

Rhode Island has lagged on legalizing recreational sales, Doyle said, but he’s eager to see the Ocean State catch up with others on selling recreational cannabis and making reparations for those previously charged with cannabis-related offenses.

“We’ve been spending money in Massachusetts all this time,” Doyle said. “Let’s bring it into Rhode Island.”

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at  voghel@pbn.com.

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