Delayed commission appointment process expected to stall new cannabis retailers

LAYING DOWN THE LAW: State Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, second from right, discusses a new Rhode Island law legalizing recreational marijuana use and its retail sales. Also on one of two panels at Providence Business News’ 2022 Business of Cannabis summit on Sept. 15 are, from left, Matthew Santacroce, R.I. Department of Business Regulation interim director; and Benjamin L. Rackliffe, a partner at Pannone Lopes Devereaux and O’Gara LLC.
PBN PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI
LAYING DOWN THE LAW: State Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, second from right, discusses a new Rhode Island law legalizing recreational marijuana use and its retail sales. Also on one of two panels at Providence Business News’ 2022 Business of Cannabis summit on Sept. 15 are, from left, Matthew Santacroce, R.I. Department of Business Regulation interim director; and Benjamin L. Rackliffe, a partner at Pannone Lopes Devereaux and O’Gara LLC.
PBN PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI

PROVIDENCE – Though regulated recreational cannabis sales are set to begin in Rhode Island on Dec. 1, for some looking to break into the Ocean State’s market, a piece of the establishment process remains missing: the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, which as of now is vacant.

Under the R.I. Cannabis Act, which Gov. Daniel J. McKee signed into law on May 25, the Cannabis Control Commission is an independent body of three members overseeing “the regulation, licensing and control of adult use and medical cannabis.”

The legislation also calls for the formation of an 19-person advisory board consisting of appointees and officials to work with and provide recommendations to the Cannabis Control Commission.

The legislation gives the governor 40 days to appoint the Cannabis Control Commission members, following recommendations from the speaker of the House within 30 days of the legislation’s adoption. With that deadline already passed, McKee won’t make appointments until the new year, according to a spokesperson for his office. 

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”The governor’s three appointments to this commission are subject to advice and consent of the Senate,” Sheaff said, “and the governor intends to submit names to the Senate at the beginning of the next session so they can move through the A&C process promptly.” 

McKee then plans to appoint advisory board members “shortly after the [commission] is established,” Sheaff said, as will the Senate president and speaker of the House.

Matt Santacroce, chief of the R.I. Office of Cannabis Regulation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. R.I. Commerce Corp. spokeswoman Jennifer McGee declined to address the cause of the delay, referring back to Sheaff’s statement.  

But the missed deadline could mean a headache for new businesses eager to jump into the state’s retail cannabis industry, said Benjamin L. Rackliffe, a partner at Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara LLC.

“There’s a slow rollout associated with that process, and the lynchpin of moving adult-use forward and expanding to additional licenses beyond the medical market is all predicated upon the Cannabis Control Commission,” Rackliffe said.

Rackliffe expects this rollout process to take at least six months, if the state acts aggressively, or up to a year. Not only does McKee need to make the appointments, but other regulatory measures, such as establishing an application structure and other final regulations, can also hold up the process.

“Until all of those things happen, it will just be compassion centers that hold a hybrid license and be able to dispense cannabis in the state for adult use,” Rackliffe said.  

As it stands, the state has awarded five of its nine compassion center licenses. Those license holders, located in Providence, Portsmouth, Warwick, South Kingstown and Central Falls, can hit the ground running on retail sales Dec. 1.

But this expected frustration for new businesses could be a boost for compassion centers, Rackliffe noted.

“What it does is provide an opportunity for the existing medical compassion centers to really function with limited competition until such time the Cannabis Control Commission is formed,” Rackliffe said of the delayed appointment process. 

While retailers will have to wait, the delayed process shouldn’t impact existing medical cultivators, provided they have a hybrid license, as the R.I. Cannabis Act allows any medical marijuana cultivator already licensed or approved to grow medical and adult-use cannabis. 

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

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