Under a 2006 law creating a medical marijuana program, Rhode Island has seen rapid growth in the number of people legally permitted to smoke cannabis to cope with a host of medical maladies, including chronic pain, anxiety, hypertension, and nausea, reports the Provide Journal. The state is now issuing 76 licenses weekly to grow or use medical marijuana, up from 50 a week earlier in the summer. There are now 2,250 patients in the program and 1,656 caregivers, or those permitted to grow up to 24 marijuana plants for designated patients. That's more than double the numbers from a year ago. More than 300 licenses have been issued to patients and caregivers in the past four weeks.
The surge in patients comes as the Health Department prepares to choose one or more operators to run nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries. Last week, the department put the brakes on its plans to grant a license to the first dispensary or compassion center this month. The move, after months of review, infuriated many of the 15 applicants for dispensary permits as well as a patient advocacy group. The department, which decided that none of the applicants qualified for a license, plans to restart the application process in October. Many of the original applicants, who spent thousands of dollars in hopes of opening the first compassion center, are expected to apply a second time. The dispensaries, which would grow their own marijuana, would be in addition to the current private arrangements between licensed patients and growers. Sometime early next year, a full-scale marijuana dispensary is expected to be up and running in at least one and as many as three locations in the state.