Becoming a Licensed Medical Marijuana Patient in RI

Anyone interested in becoming a patient, a caregiver, or who is curious about the RI Medical Marijuana Program is encouraged to attend a RIPAC  Monday night meeting at the Bell Street Chapel where your questions can be answered and you can even receive help completing the application.  Please check the RIPAC calendar on this website for info on the Monday night meetings.  http://ripatients.org/Calendar.html

Please note that we are currently in the process of updating this site to incorporate recent changes to the law. Some of those changes take effect July 1, 2016. Others take effect January 1, 2017 and April 1, 2017. 

I.  How do I know if I qualify for the medical marijuana program in Rhode Island?

You must be a RI resident with a debilitating medical condition. A debilitating medical condition is defined by the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act as:

• Cancer or the treatment of this condition
• Glaucoma or the treatment of this condition
• Positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or the treatment of this condition
• Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or the treatment of this condition
• Hepatitis C or the treatment of this condition
• 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
• Seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy
• Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease
• Agitation related to Alzheimer’s Disease and                                                                PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as of July 1, 2016. Unlike the other qualifying conditions, you must be 18 years old to qualify. The other qualifying conditions do not have age restrictions.

HOSPICE PATIENTS: If the qualifying patient’s physician notifies the health department in a written statement that the qualifying patient is eligible for hospice care, the department shall verify the application and issue a Medical Marijuana card to the patient and patient’s caregiver, if applicable, within 72 hours. All registration fees shall be waived.

CHEMOTHERAPY PATIENTS:   if the qualifying patient’s physician notifies the department in a written statement that the qualifying patient is eligible for chemotherapy, the department of health shall give priority to these applications. Effective January 1, 2017, the department  shall approve or  deny a registry identification card to these qualifying patients within five (5) days.

II. I think that I do have a qualifying condition.  How do I apply for the Medical Marijuana Program in Rhode Island? How long will it take?
To apply for a medical marijuana license, you must have proof of Rhode Island residency and have a qualifying medical condition. Your physician must sign the practitioner form which is part of the application for a medical marijuana license. The application can be downloaded and printed from the Department of Health’s web site (you may have to copy and paste the following into your your browser)  http://www.health.ri.gov/forms/registration/MedicalMarijuanaNewApplication.pdf

The application cannot be completed on line. They must be printed out, completed and mailed.

Complete applications to the Medical Marijuana program  include:

1) Patient Form, identifying the patient and caregivers, if any. (a patient is not required to appoint a caregiver in his or her initial application. A patient can appoint a caregiver or compassion center at any time)

2) Practitioner Form –  the physician attests that he or she has a bona fide patient physician relationship with the patient and has competed a full assessment of the patient’s qualifying condition.

The Health Dept has minimum guidelines for doctors who sign medical marijuana applications. The doctor must review one year of medical records, complete a physical examination, and see the patient at least every six months. A physician licensed in RI, MA or CT may sign the application.
3) Application Fee of $50 or $25 if the patient receives Medicaid, SSI, or SSDI, railroad disability or is a disabled Veteran.  Please note that if you are on SSI or SSDI, then you need documentation from the Social Security administration that you are receiving SSI or SSDI. It is not enough to have a statement that you are receiving income from the social security administration.

4)  Minor Form must be completed if the patient is under 18 years old.

Be sure that you follow the instructions that accompany the application exactly.
An incomplete or incorrect application will cause a delay.
You do not have to appoint a caregiver in the initial application, you can appoint one at a later time if you wish. For more information, attend a Monday meeting at the Bell Street Chapel in Providence. See calendar on this website for info about meetings.

How long will it take?  The health department says it will take 4-8 weeks to process an application (hospice and chemotherapy patients receive expedited approval if their physicians submit a written statement) Many applications have been processed in 3 weeks.  The length of time depends greatly on the volume of applications being submitted. Once your application is approved, the health department will send you an acceptance letter with instructions on coming into the department to get for photo taken for your card. Your card will be given to you at that time.

III. How do I talk to my doctor about medical marijuana?
Talk to a doctor with whom you have an established patient-physician relationship.  A doctor who has been treating you has an understanding of the health conditions that have prompted your interest in medical cannabis. Your treating physician will be familiar with the medications you have tried, whether they were successful, the side effects, etc.. In other words, if your physicians have prescribed pain medications that do not work for you or if you cannot tolerate certain medical treatments because the accompanying nausea or other side effects are not tolerable, your physicians will be familiar with the failure of the medications and your reactions to them.

The more educated you are about medical cannabis and how it works, the better you will be able to discuss it with your physician. Be honest about how cannabis helps or will help your medical condition. Not all physicians are educated about medical cannabis so you should be prepared with as much knowledge as possible. If you can attend a RIPAC meeting at the Bell Street Chapel on the first or second Monday of the month, please do.  A major topic of conversation is how to talk to doctors and others about medical marijuana. See the RIPAC calendar at on this website for details about meetings.

There is a wide range of reactions that patients get from doctors when they raise the subject of using marijuana as medicine. Some patients never have to bring up the subject of medical cannabis because their doctors initiate the conversation and suggest it as a possible treatment.

If your physician has not suggested cannabis as a remedy for your condition, you might want to think ahead and try to anticipate what some of your doctor’s questions or concerns might be and prepare to address them. It could be that your physician is waiting for you to bring it up and he or she will be very supportive of medical marijuana as a treatment option for you and has many other patients who have are successfully medicating with cannabis. It’s possible that your doctor will not be immediately supportive but will be supportive after he or she learns more about medical cannabis and how it works. Your doctor may not be immediately supportive but will be supportive over time after he or she learns more about medical cannabis.  There are, however, some doctors that may never be supportive. For example, physicians who work for federal agencies (like the Veterans Administration) will not sign a patient’s application even though they may believe that medical cannabis is an effective option.

IV. Why wouldn’t my physician sign my application if I have a qualifying condition?
Many physicians are not familiar with the medical value of cannabis.  They are accustomed to writing prescriptions that are FDA approved and promoted by pharmaceutical companies. Medical marijuana can be outside the “comfort zone” of some physicians because they have not been educated about it, don’t know how to dose it, and do not know how their patients will safely acquire it.

Though there has never been a case of lung cancer attributed to marijuana, tars and potentially harmful compounds are released when marijuana is smoked.  If you haven’t already, you should consider an alternative to smoking cannabis. Vaporizers (not the kind you use when you have a cold), provide an alternative to smoking. Tars and other potentially harmful compounds are released when marijuana is smoked. Keep in mind, many doctors are uncomfortable and are unwilling to suggest that you or any of their patients smoke anything. It is contrary to their training. They may be more receptive to marijuana as a treatment if they know that it will be administered in a way that won’t damage their patients’ lungs. Vaporizers are devices that heat but do not burn the medicine so there should be no smoke to inhale. Instead of smoke, the patient inhales vapor. There are many different kinds of vaporizers available on the internet and at local shops. Not only do they prevent smoke from occupying a patient’s lungs, they do not produce the odor that comes with smoking, thus helping to ensure a patient’s privacy while medicating. These are devices that heat but do not burn the medicine so there should be no smoke to inhale. Instead of smoke, the patient inhales vapor. Patients also successfully use tinctures, teas, oils, topical creams and many different kinds of edibles.

If your physician will not or cannot sign your application (such as physicians who work for federal agencies, the VA, Community Health Centers, etc) then you may wish to consider having a physician who will see you specifically for the purpose of evaluating you for and following your progress in the Medical Marijuana Program. Rhode Island has several MMj clinics. To find a clinic that has received positive patient reviews, contact RIPAC  at joanne@RIpatients.org

V. Can you suggest some reading material on the benefits of medical cannabis?

A.  Here are links to web sites that will provide a good place to start:

http://www.cannabis-med.org

http://www.safeaccessnow.org/section.php?id=135

http://www.cannabinoidsociety.org/

VI. How will I get Medical Marijuana when I become a licensed patient?

As soon as you have your photo ID card, you may legally possess 2.5 ounces of  medical marijuana and can immediately go to any or all of the three licensed Compassion Centers. For info about the compassion centers, please click on: http://ripatients.org/compassioncenters.html.  You can also grow your own plants if you have an appropriate and safe indoor space to grow and you can also appoint a caregiver to grow for you.  For information about all your options, click on: http://ripatients.org/licensedpatients.html

VII. I have a medical condition that would qualify me for the Medical Marijuana Program but I’m getting and using marijuana now so is it worth for me to get a license?

As a licensed patient, you could possess 2.5 ounces of dried usable cannabis, grow (12 mature plants & 12 seedlings) and could appoint a caregiver to possess, acquire and/or grow cannabis for you.  You could also purchase cannabis at any and all of the three RI compassion centers.
Without a license, you are forced to acquire cannabis on the illegal market. The illegal market can be dangerous and there is no way of knowing how the cannabis was grown and what chemicals or other toxins have been used.

VIII. If I have a qualifying condition but do not have a Medical Marijuana license and I get arrested, won’t the charges be dismissed because I have a qualifying medical condition?

As of April 1, 2013, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in RI carries a civil penalty of 150 dollar fine and confiscation of the marijuana. Anyone under the age of 18 may be required to attend a drug awareness program and perform community service. Three offenses within a 18 month period constitutes a misdemeanor which could result in up to 30 days in jail and/or 200 – 500 dollar fine.

There is also an “affirmative defense” in the RI medical marijuana law. That means that you can be arrested (if you possess more than one ounce or possess plants) but if you qualify for a RI MMj license, the charges will be dismissed if you get a license before you go to trial. Not all patients have been able to get a license after being arrested. Even if they do and the charges are dismissed, they still have to pay legal fees, they may have an arrest record, and they have experienced a great deal of stress.

IX. Does RIPAC give out the names of doctors who will sign applications for the Medical Marijuana Program?

RIPAC will not give out a physician’s name unless we have his or her permission to do so. The fact that a physician has signed applications for one patient does not necessarily mean they will sign for another. Each patient is unique.

RIPAC will provide info on the medical marijuana clinics. You can request the most up to date information on clinics by emailing joanne@RIpatients.org.

X.  I just moved to Rhode Island. How long do I have to live here before applying for a medical marijuana license?

There is currently no waiting period but you will need a RI driver’s license, a photo ID issued by the RI Department of Motor Vehicles, or a utility bill.  Read and follow the residency requirements on the application carefully.