Blurred (state) lines

Territorial rights and wrongs
By VALERIE VANDE PANNE  |  December 11, 2013

Does Massachusetts honor medical marijuana patient cards from Rhode Island? Do Rhode Island dispensaries honor medical marijuana cards from Massachusetts?

_Crossing State Lines

I’m not sure what state you live in, CSL, but I’m guessing you and your fellow patients are close enough to the other state to make it quite tempting to seek your medicine there.

Medical marijuana patients in Massachusetts have to have their doctor’s recommendation from a Massachusetts physician, so a Rhode Island patient card won’t help you access medi-pot there. In addition, Massachusetts patients aren’t happy with the state’s one-to-one caregiver-to-patient ratio (meaning a caregiver can only grow medical marijuana for one patient
— a challenging and costly endeavor). This makes it difficult for patients to get their medicine — unless, of course, they’re willing to hit the black market, which is currently what many patients continue to do in the Bay State.

Rhode Island, meanwhile, does offer “reciprocity” for medical marijuana patients from other states — but that word can be deceptive. RI says that if you’re a medical marijuana patient, you will be afforded the same protections in RI, but only
if your illness is covered under RI’s law. If you have a California patient card that was issued for insomnia, for example, guess what? You’re not covered in Rhode Island. And, remember, Massachusetts doesn’t have a formal patient card system yet, so a doctor’s note might not be so easy to validate for Rhode Island law enforcement.

Here’s the other catch to Rhode Island reciprocity: “Out-of-state patients cannot legally purchase medical marijuana in Rhode Island,” says JoAnne Leppanen of Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition ( In order to legally buy medical marijuana from a Rhode Island caregiver or dispensary, the patient needs to be a registered RI patient. And you can only register as a RI patient if you are a resident of Rhode Island. So all those Massachusetts patients calling on caregivers and dispensaries in Rhode Island for medicine are finding they are unable to obtain legal medical marijuana in Rhode Island, too.

In other words, you can’t just come from MA to RI to get your medicinal cannabis.

However, if a patient is in Rhode Island from out-of-state and they’re severely ill (for example, with stage IV cancer) and unable to travel to get home, the patient could be gifted medical marijuana by another patient or caregiver. Gifting of medical marijuana is protected under the law, thereby discouraging illegal drug dealing, and encouraging generosity to those who are severely ill.


This holiday season, we have much to be thankful for, especially our freedom. There are currently tens of thousands

of marijuana offenders behind bars nationwide. And while concerned citizens are doing what they can to reform laws, the gears of justice often turn slowly. Those prisoners wait. And wait.

Often, a good book can provide them with a much-needed moment of joy. That’s why this holiday season, I encourage you to support your local Books Through Bars ( or Prison Book Program ( Both send books to prisoners. Often, the package containing a book is the only mail a prisoner receives, and a small book goes a long way toward brightening an inmate’s day.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you and your loved ones a happy, peaceful holiday.

Got a Burning Question about marijuana, drugs, or the drug war? Tweet it to @asktheduchess or e-mail it

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 See all articles by: VALERIE VANDE PANNE