Customers line up to buy recreational cannabis legally in Warwick

Ocean State weed sales available to all 21 and over at five RI stores

Posted 12/7/22

Russ Matuszek sat behind the wheel of the Canna-Bus, a free-wheeling trolley parked outside the RISE dispensary.

“If they need us, we’re here,” said the driver, leaning forward …

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Customers line up to buy recreational cannabis legally in Warwick

Ocean State weed sales available to all 21 and over at five RI stores


Russ Matuszek sat behind the wheel of the Canna-Bus, a free-wheeling trolley parked outside the RISE dispensary.

“If they need us, we’re here,” said the driver, leaning forward in his seat, looking out into the road at the steady line of traffic waiting to turn right off Jefferson Boulevard and into the RISE parking lot. An additional parking lot was available next door, but mostly unused at 10 a.m. Thursday.

For the time-being, the shuttle was empty. Rain was in the weekend forecast, however, and Matuszek predicted his services would be in great demand on Saturday.

Matuszek works for Newport Travel. The company was contracted by the operators of RISE, to shuttle prospective customers to and from the pot shop.

On Dec. 1, RISE — formerly Summit Medical Compassion Center — opened to the general public, offering adults the opportunity to legally purchase over-the-counter recreational cannabis for the first time in Rhode Island.

Business was brisk around the Jefferson Boulevard building. Caribbean Vibe, a steel drum band, opened the day. Mayor Frank Picozzi was invited to cut the ribbon for the official opening, but he said 5:25 a.m. was just too early for him. 

Inside, showing identification an employee using a code card opened a door to a room cordoned to separate medical and recreational users. Recreational users were ushered to display screens where they could choose from more than 70 products offered from the Warwick store.

Jade Gonzales was one of many employees ready to assist consumers.

She knows Rhode Island, having attended Johnson & Wales University, and is now working in New Jersey for Green Thumb Industries, the company that owns RISE. She and high ranking Green Thumb executives  from across their national network of retail cannabis operations traveled to Warwick for the welcoming party.

Growing Industry

RISE dispensaries and their partners “currently have 78 dispensary locations in 13 states,” according to the company’s website.

Customers tapped computer screens at kiosks, to make selections from wacky hybrid strains like Watermelon Szkittles, Animal Mints, Face Mask, Sour Tsunami and Scooby Snacks. Many were grown by city-based cultivators, like Mammoth and Hangar 420.

Gonzales said customers should leave the store with the three Hs, “happy, high and hungry.”

Warwick has become the Ocean State’s cannabis growing capital, hosting 28 of Rhode Island’s 65 licensed cultivators (West Warwick has five and Cranston has six).

Police Cooperation

The Warwick Police Department coordinated efforts to ensure the opening went smoothly.

“The opening of the RISE facility to recreational sales that occurred on Dec. 1 was closely coordinated with our Traffic Division and Detail Office to ensure that there were no traffic or parking issues,” said  Warwick Police Chief Col. Bradford E. Connor. “The traffic in and out of the facility was steady, but less than anticipated so there were no reported issues or concerns throughout the first few days of operation.”

Local police departments issued warnings to drivers, reminding them that operating a vehicle under the influence of cannabis is illegal.

Warwick Police posted a message on the department’s Facebook page: “Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a crime. Remember don't drive high. Some of the effects of marijuana are: Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors), altered sense of time, changes in mood, impaired body movement, difficulty with thinking and problem-solving, impaired memory, hallucinations (when taken in high doses), delusions (when taken in high doses).”

“We’re closely monitoring the effects of the new legislation on impaired driving but it is too soon yet to measure the effect,” Connor said.

Johnston Police Chief Joseph P. Razza has been steadfast in his opposition to the legislation, and open about his concerns regarding enforcement of DUI laws in connection to cannabis intake by drivers.

“My position has not changed since the last time I made comments regarding the recreational use of marijuana,” Razza said Tuesday. “It still creates challenges for law enforcement and the safety concerns that we have for the motoring public throughout Rhode Island. Furthermore there is no real test for those who are driving while impaired and the department has not made any arrests for those driving under the use of recreational marijuana. Law Enforcement will continue to monitor these challenges and take the appropriate measures necessary to protect those who utilize our streets and highways.”

Patient Penetration

Green Thumb Director and CFO Anthony Georgiadis stood in the lobby watching customers peruse the menu and await their turn to check out with one of a long row of budtenders.

“We mostly operate in the Midwest and Northeast,” Georgiadis said over the drone of a hundred different conversations, music and a few giggles. RISE purchased Summit in 2021. “This location had nice patient penetration; it was set up well.”

The Warwick dispensary (Unit E2, 380 Jefferson Boulevard) is Green Thumb’s first retail shop in Rhode Island.

On Tuesday, Georgiadis said “things are steady at the store.”

“The team is doing a nice job of continuing to service the medical patients with the same TLC as we did before while also accommodating the adult use consumer,” he added. “It’s still early to comment formally on sales but I’d say they are going as anticipated.”

RISE also operates six stores in Massachusetts: Amherst, Dracut, Chelsea, Boston, Maynard and West Springfield.

The state has four other open and operating retail locations: Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, 1 Corliss St., Providence; Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, 1637 West Main Road, Portsmouth; Aura of Rhode Island (formerly Pinnacle Compassion Center, Inc.), 1136 Lonsdale Ave., Central Falls; and Mother Earth Wellness LTD, 125 Esten Ave., Pawtucket.

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act into law on May 25, legalizing and regulating recreational adult-use cannabis in the state.

“The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use,” bill sponsor Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said in May. “Since Rhode Islanders can already access cannabis just across the state border or on the illicit market, we experience all the challenges without any of the safeguards or resources that our neighboring states have. With this bill, we are ending prohibition in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it. This bill has been years in the making, and is a collaborative effort to address concerns about protecting medical use, ensuring fair governance and recognizing that we cannot make this transition without taking action to make whole the communities and individuals who have been punished for decades under prohibition.”

The legislation also included automatic expungement of prior civil or criminal marijuana possession charges. The law made possession and home-growing of cannabis legal for adults age 21 and older, and in-store sales stating Dec. 1.

“This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” McKee said in May. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My Administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.”

Hefty Sales Tax

The legislation set a 20 percent tax rate (7 percent sales tax, a new 10 percent cannabis tax, and a 3 percent tax for the town/city where the cannabis is sold).

For example, 3.5 grams of pre-packaged Watermelon Szkittles costs $50 before tax, and $60 after taxes are applied ($3.50 state sales tax, $5 state cannabis tax and a $1.50 for the city of Warwick).

Warwick’s lawmakers applauded the end of cannabis prohibition in the Ocean State.

“The bill represents a strong foundation from which to build the safe, equitable regulation of cannabis for adult use,” House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) said in May. “We are proud that this legislation prioritizes the participation of people most impacted by the past enforcement of cannabis laws both through automatic expungement and the creation of a licensing structure based on social equity.”

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) called it “a truly momentous day for Rhode Island.”

“Ending cannabis prohibition helps us right past wrongs while creating new opportunities for all Rhode Islanders,” McCaffrey said. “This is the right move, at the right time, for our state.”

Next Shop to Pop?

State law allows for 33 retail cannabis shops statewide. Towns and cities were required to include a referendum on the General Election ballot on November in order to restrict sales in their respective municipalities.

Voters rejected cannabis sales in Barrington, East Greenwich, Jamestown, Little Compton, Scituate and Smithfield. Voters approved the referendum in Johnston, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Lincoln, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, West Greenwich, West Warwick and Woonsocket.

Current Town Council Vice-President and Johnston Mayor-elect Joe Polisena Jr. said the town has yet to hear from prospective proprietors.

“No, haven’t heard from any potential shop owners yet,” Polisena said Tuesday.

Warwick and Cranston did not hold referendums, so the cities may see future proposals for cannabis retail shops. On Monday, the Warwick City Council granted first passage to an amendment to its zoning ordinances allowing retail outlets for cannabis by right on a section of Route 2.

McKee and the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation’s Office of Cannabis Regulation granted the Ocean State’s five previously licensed medical marijuana compassion centers state approval to begin “selling adult use marijuana on or after Dec. 1.”

The new iterations have been granted “hybrid retail licenses,” which allow the shops to “sell both medical marijuana as well as safe, well-regulated and competitively priced marijuana products to Rhode Island adults over the age of 21.” The licenses were issued in early October.

“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said. “It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers.”

With Warwick Beacon reports from  John Howell.


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