PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WJAR) — As Rhode Island is set to begin recreational marijuana sales Thursday, state regulators are ramping up their staff as they oversee the industry.
The state legalized adult recreational cannabis in May, with the planned start of sales on Dec. 1.
“Orders of magnitude more quickly than any other state in the Northeast has done it. We're very happy about that,” says Matt Santacroce, interim deputy director of Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulation and head of its Office of Cannabis Regulation.
So with a relatively speedy start, does the state have the resources to adequately oversee what's about to happen?
“Absolutely we do,” Santacroce told NBC 10 News.
He just hired four staffers, with a dozen more in the works soon, planning to triple the state's cannabis inspection ability.
Rhode Island has had medical marijuana compassion centers for nearly a decade.
Compassion centers are the first businesses that are allowed to sell recreational cannabis on Thursday.
So far, five have been approved to do so. Another four will also be able to do so at some point.
The existing infrastructure helped move the transition along.
“We have -- with very, very, very few exceptions -- an industry and a group of licensees here that are working really hard to make it in this state, that are trying every day to do the right thing,” Santacroce told NBC 10.
Santacroce also said he believes that some perceptions and expectations of the cannabis industry have changed now that it's been around for a while in other states, like next door in Massachusetts.
“To the extent that people think that, or used to think that this is like a gold mine that just has to be tapped and everybody is going to get rich immediately, you know, it's a hard industry,” he said.
On the money end for the state, expectations are not huge, with about $10 million in tax revenue projected in the first full year.
The state budget quadrupled the money for regulators to oversee the industry, including about $1.5 million to increase staff.
The law allows for up to 24 more recreational only dispensaries.
However, the state cannabis commission that has to approve those facilities has not been set up yet, with the governor planning to nominate commissioners early next year.
Santacroce estimates it could be at least another year from then before those recreational-only shops are online.