ONCE UPON A TIME IN......
In its inception back in 2006, Rhode Island had a very fair and protective Mom & Pop Cannabis network. Caregiver and Patient grows supplied patients with Cannabis at a very reduced rate, and in some cases, even FREE. During the next 7 years, Rhode Island faced several economic changes. People lost jobs and homes were foreclosed on with the financial collapse of 2008. This collapse took a huge toll on the local economy. A very large number of patients, many of whom faced losing their homes relied on Cannabis as an alternative medicine. At this time it was legal to grow and supply Cannabis for up to five patients at a time, receiving reimbursement costs for expenses and overhead, including bills like mortgages and electric payments. Commercial unit grows were unheard of at this time and Cannabis was valued on the street at $420 an ounce.
Fast forward to 2009, thousands of Rhode Islanders have invested in small home grows, also attracting new residents to this beautiful state with our compassionate Cannabis laws at the time. Prices for the patient at this time have gone down drastically to around $280-$325 an ounce due to the local mom and pop model. Grow stores are popping up left and right creating a micro economy of new jobs and tax revenue in this emerging market that is rising out of the ashes of prohibition. People are making mortgage payments again and squeaking by finally. Things are starting to move in a positive direction.
From 2009 to 2012 things are leveling off more for the patient. For once, there are options. With over 3,000 caregivers to supply 18,000 patients at this time, things are finally calming down price wise. Ounces for patients have leveled off to around $150-$200 on the untaxed market and concentrates are making their way onto the scene creating its own economy in the process. Dozens of glass shops and smoking accessory stores started spawning up here, and along comes another round of new jobs and tax revenue. Its 2012 and the national climate has changed drastically. With Washington and Oregon having just become the first two states to legalize recreational Cannabis. For the first time in the last 80 years big money is now talking about Cannabis. Backwards as usual, Rhode Island approved the creation of only 3 dispensaries to replace the over 3,000 options patients currently had. With a corrupt first round of over 20 dispensary applications being removed for no reason. Next comes the shady removal of Department of Health Director Charles Alexandre and the second round application process being hurried in.. Things are now in a direct line to become a conflict with the Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890.
Here comes the monopoly….. April 19th, 2013 The Thomas C Slater center opens in Providence, Rhode Island as a complete monopoly and “compassionately” priced ounces are now being sold at almost $500 after tax(only non over the counter medicine in rhode island with an excise tax). So whats the problem you ask? Well, The Slater Center is not a monopoly due to their expertise in business or lack of willing competition, nor is the patient supply and demand model in effect. At this time they are a monopoly with the direct conspiratorial support of the General Assembly. With the creation of a very limited and restrictive application process and closed backroom promises, Rhode Island stands to push out all little farmers and lower priced caregivers. Unfortunately the patient who seeks retail access to Cannabis, without further price knowledge, is now positioned to be treated as a customer and no longer a patient under this current model. If you pay attention, this is now the time that “Home Grow” rights are trying to be demolished as well. Not because of the huge amount of patients violating the program (only 2 patients ever have officially lost their medical card) But, because at this time, dispensary numbers were no where near the 56 million a year they are today (https://www.abc6.com/story/40219361/rhode-island-sales-of-medical-marijuana-hits-new-highs)
Furthermore, let’s go over the next major blow to patient rights, and the marijuana program as a whole. Out of the complete blue comes the 2016 rushed “emergency” passing of Article 14. With article 14 comes Cultivators, and the introduction of the Norman Birenbaum dictatorship era that now reigns supreme over the entire patient and cultivator program as a whole. Cultivators are a group of licensees Norman created to replace the previously working, ten year model, where caregivers could supply compassion centers with legally grown overages allowing them to then be 1099’d and start paying income tax. The previous model allowed small mom and pop growers to essentially pawn their extra cannabis to a legal market that would then verify its cleanliness and be the middle man to the patient. a great model if you ask me. The price of a commercial pound at this time was around $3500. This alone limited illicit market diversion by allowing a legal outlet for excess cannabis at the same time giving incentive to yield more clean product. This product would then become available to other patients from licensed dispensaries and not through the untaxed market.
Lets face it; not one person knows exactly how much weight one cannabis plant will yield and the diversity is enormous. So, with that being said, even a good, honest farmer, could grow a little too much or even fail completely, wasting hundreds, if not thousands in investment capitol. Why do we want to go backwards and make criminals out of good honest folks again? Creating confusing and ridiculous wet and dry limits for patients like there is some exact standard to what is dry or wet. Cannabis is Cannabis. Only in Rhode Island would government bureaucrats feel comfortable punishing the many law abiding patients who cant even grow successfully due to the fact that a very limited few can yield more than others.
Fast forward to current market today. Cannabis is sold commercially for around $800 - $1800 max per pound. But…. guess what the price is for patients? No, not cut in half like the wholesale price, as you would assume. Nope, Its still up around $400 for an ounce of “Top Tier” Cannabis. So, now tell me who is benefiting from over regulating the production of Cannabis sold to dispensaries? Is it the patients? Nope, try again. Ding ding ding thats right……. The Dispensaries and the entities that invest in them. Well, now you may say its the overhead and safety protocols keeping prices high, etc…. Nope, since taking over the “Regulation” of Cannabis, the Department of Business has done nothing to implement safety standards to protect patients or to entice accredited testing facilities to open business in our non business friendly state. What Norman has done is create a super exclusive fee structure(5k - 250k a year entry fee) for growers and sellers enticed to join the “legal” Cannabis industry. Cultivators are then granted permission to sell to the states only 3 dispensaries. Without the possibility of any sort of “Free Market” to take hold these growers are at the mercy of the compassion centers, most of which are doomed to fail.
Now lets jump over to the Patients and “Home Grow”. What has transformed from a simple, compassionate process of get a card and you can now grow this harmless plant legally and discreetly with out further fees, hassles or government over reach. Medical Cannabis in Rhode Island, is now strictly a money grab for the State. Someone needs to be held accountable for the botched roll out of the Patient “Plant Tag Program”. Thousands of patients purchased tags (78,000 plant tags paid for in the first year) and hundreds were not given their tags for almost an entire year, being told, “just use some email as proof”.(proof that its just a money grab and not about “tags” at all). Hundreds of patients were told their tags were ready and to drive to the ACI complex(slap in the face if you ask me) in Cranston, where dozens of patients arrived to be told, sorry we don't have your tags come back again… DBR used another non Rhode Island entity to provide patients with tags and not only were patients private information compromised and illegally disseminated to a non government entity… Numerous patients were given the wrong tags with other patients information, clearly violating said persons rights to privacy and the state over paid too much for the rollout.
At this current time less than half of the 78,000 plants tags have been renewed. My guess is this is not from people closing up their grows and switching to the dispensaries, but more from a lack of confidence in the fair over sight and handling of patients private information. It now costs a patient an extra $300 a year for plant tags on top of the absurd $50 for the actual ID card. The tag program has 3 people to over see the entire program on top of watching over 1000 cameras from the Cultivator program as well as scrolling hundreds of Instagram's being sleuths to try and catch Cultivators slipping. What started for over sight has become just over reaching, unchecked and under staffed. Rhode Island is supposed to have a commission of at least 8 people from the community, ranging from patients to doctors and law enforcement representatives all guiding this industry fairly. A true checks and balances and oversight committee.
On top of this lack of over sight and absolutely ZERO checks and balances you have these same government employees lobbying to destroy patients right to cultivate their own safe medicine. Seems like a lot for a person to do for only $80,000 a year salary. Especially noting that in 2017 Norman applied for a job in Massachusetts to be the the director of the mass cannabis control, a job he was not hired for. (https://www.providencejournal.com/news/20171016/ris-medical-pot-czar-finalist-to-head-mass-cannabis-commission) which paid almost double at $150,000 annually, you can clearly see money is a motivating factor for him. Sadly, there is zero promise for the future of Cannabis in Rhode Island. Would Norman really just bail on all his promises to the people of Rhode Island?
Its sad to hear a proposal now for a “legalization plan” that makes zero mention about social justice or equitable license distribution in our communities. Ive heard zero about making this a diverse industry of Rhode Islanders. Ive heard zero about removing criminal records from people arrested for Cannabis. Ive heard zero about money being earmarked for our schools or our children's future. All I see in the Legalization plan is more Fees, more prison, more greed and more control for the same people responsible for destroying our medical program. So for that I say….. Keep it illegal for all so it doesn't just become legal some.