This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now approaching the top of our list. The remaining states all have legalized medical marijuana. The criminal penalties in the remaining states range from bad to good, but many have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This week we head to New England for state number 14: Rhode Island.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 15. Kentucky; 16. Pennsylvania; 17. Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. Rhode Island imposes civil penalties, rather than jail time, for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Possession of up to one ounce of cannabis gets a $150 fine with no jail time and do not create a criminal record. Possession of between one ounce and one kilogram earns a maximum sentence of one-year imprisonment and a fine up to $500. A person in possession of larger amounts faces penalties for possession with intent to sell:
- 1-5 kilograms earns a prison sentence of 10-50 years and a maximum fine of $500,000.
- Over 5 kilograms earns a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment and a maximum fine of $100,000.
Like the penalties for possession, penalties for the sale of marijuana depend on weight:
- Less than 1 kilogram earns up to 30 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $100,000.
- 1-5 kilograms earns 10-50 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500,000.
- More than 5 kilograms earns 20 years to life imprisonment and a maximum fine of $100,000
The penalties for the sale or possession of marijuana double if the offense occurs within 300 yards of a school, public park, or playground.
Medical marijuana. Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana in 2006 with the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act. This Act allows patients with a registry ID card to use, possess, and cultivate cannabis. Doctors can authorize the use of medical marijuana if the patient is suffering from a qualifying condition, that includes the following:
- HIV and AIDs
- Hepatitis C
- A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following:
- Cachexia or wasting syndrome
- Severe, debilitating, chronic pain
- Severe nausea
- Severe and persistent muscle spasms
- Agitation related to Alzheimer’s Disease
Rhode Island patients can purchase state-licensed dispensaries or cultivate home-grown marijuana on their own. Patients may possess up to 2.5 ounces of useable cannabis or 12 plants and 12 seedlings. Patients who cultivate cannabis must grow all their plants in one location and store their plants indoors. Two patients may collectively cultivate cannabis together. Rhode Island also recognizes medical marijuana authorizations from other states. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, there were 11,881 registered cannabis users as of 2015.
Bottomline. Rhode Island has decriminalized possession of marijuana under one ounce. However, criminal penalties for large amounts or for the sale of cannabis are extremely harsh. Though it appears the state rarely imposes life sentences for drug crimes, it is shocking to see that penalty still on the books. The state does have a fairly impressive medical marijuana program. Patients have the option to obtain cannabis from dispensaries or through home cultivation. Rhode Island may rank last in the country in size, but it towers over most of the other states when it comes to cannabis laws.