R.I. marijuana dispensaries look to make deliveries to compete with Mass.

0
662
IG: @black_sheep_farms

Jennifer Bogden 1/4/18 PROJO

With the threat of a legalized marijuana market looming just over the border, Rhode Island’s three medical-marijuana dispensaries fear what might happen come July when any adult will be able to go into a Massachusetts pot shop and purchase the drug.

Ding dong.

The doorbell chimes. It could be the mail carrier with an Amazon package. It could be the Munroe Dairy milkman with fresh produce.

Or it could be the medical-marijuana delivery man.

With the threat of a legalized marijuana market looming just over the border, Rhode Island’s three medical-marijuana dispensaries fear what might happen come July when any adult will be able to go into a Massachusetts pot shop and purchase the drug.

Rhode Island state regulators — while not as fearful of an immediate Massachusetts threat — are on board with the concept of delivery services. They’re preparing to review proposed delivery plans from the dispensaries and are awaiting development of a mobile app that will make the state’s new marijuana tracking system ready for the road — likely this year.

The software would allow the dispensaries to use the state’s sophisticated barcode system that tracks marijuana plants from the moment they’re planted to the time the dried buds are sold at someone’s doorstep.

Offering delivery service, dispensaries say, would be one way to stay ahead of recreational pot shops. The convenience of delivery, they hope, could balance out the inconveniences of being on a state registry and having to pay an annual $50 fee to renew a patient card.

“When this program was set up, we didn’t think about competition with neighboring states,” said Seth Bock, CEO of Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, in Portsmouth. “Now we can’t avoid that conversation. If the state doesn’t take appropriate action, there’s a real threat that we could be driven out of business.”

Speculation abounds as to the impact of Massachusetts legalization on Rhode Island’s medical-marijuana market.

The first recreational shops are expected to open in July, but industry experts believe there probably won’t be enough stores initially to keep up with demand — in part because of Massachusetts’ complicated approval process, which in some cases requires voter referendum.

Recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts will also carry roughly double the tax rate of Rhode Island medical-marijuana sales.

Massachusetts will impose a 17-percent state tax, and municipalities can add up to 3 percent more. Rhode Island imposes a 4-percent tax on dispensary sales, plus the standard 7-percent sales tax. In the last fiscal year, that translated into $3.1 million for the state from $28.2 million in medical-marijuana sales.

Norman Birenbaum, the state’s top medical-marijuana regulator, estimates Rhode Island won’t see any impact for a year and half to two years. Existing medical dispensaries in Massachusetts have priority for recreational pot licenses and are the most likely to open shops early, but even they aren’t an immediate threat, Birenbaum told a legislative committee last month.

“If you … don’t have a robust supply of recreational marijuana and you open your doors to recreational consumers, they’re going to sell out immediately,” Birenbaum said.

The equation is complicated further by the Trump administration’s decision last week to rescind what was largely a hands-off policy on marijuana in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational use. It remains unclear what might happen now that federal prosecutors will have more discretion in deciding whether and how to enforce federal drug laws that conflict with state laws.

The Greenleaf dispensary is in an unusual situation.

It has been offering a limited delivery service to homebound patients for roughly three years through an agreement struck with the state Department of Health.

When much of the regulatory control of the program shifted to the state Department of Business Regulation this year, it allowed Greenleaf to continue delivery to the roughly 50 patients but put the brakes on any expansion until the mobile application is developed.

Bock, the Greenleaf CEO, said while he respects the state’s position, he find it creates a double standard. The more than 2,100 medical-marijuana “caregivers” who grow the drug and provide it to the state’s more than 19,100 patients deliver every day of the week without a mobile application.

Still, the dispensaries have been assured the technology is coming.

“What we don’t want to happen in Rhode Island is for us to incentivize people to drive over the border,” Bock said. “I think that some people will not want to pay that higher tax rate [in Massachusetts]. But others will think it’s a higher tax but I don’t have to put my name on a list, and I don’t have to go to a doctor every year.”

Christopher Reilly, a spokesman for the Thomas C. Slater Center in Providence, the state’s largest dispensary, said they’ll be ready to go with delivery as soon as the state gives the green light. They’ll have delivery vehicles equipped with GPS tracking and locked compartments for the marijuana.

Reilly speculated that some patients would take advantage of delivery for the sheer convenience, and said it’s the same as pharmacies offering delivery service.

The Slater Center has taken other steps to make buying medical marijuana more convenient. Earlier this year, the dispensary began taking online orders. Patients still must come to the dispensary to pick up their orders but can skip the lines at the main counters.

“I don’t think there’s any question some people will seep across the border into Massachusetts,” Reilly said. “The question is how much of an impact are [recreational pot shops] going to have on our patients?

LEAVE A REPLY