By ALEX MALM
While there aren’t prominent signs to indicate their presence, almost half of the state’s 68 licensed marijuana cultivators operate out of Warwick.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulations there are 30 licensed cultivators in Warwick.
One of the newest that occupies a 23,000 square foot building designed and built for cultivation is Ocean State Controlled Botanicals. The company started operations in early summer and recently completed its first harvest.
Joe Dilley, director of postproduction for the business is originally from Philadelphia and was working as a corporate chef when he realized that he wanted to do something else.
He said that a friend got him an entry level job trimming plants and decided to take a pay cut so he could do something different.
Dilley did various jobs in the industry and eventually was offered his current job.
He explained that because the state was in the process of awarding six licenses for retail medical marijuana dispensaries he considered OSCB.
“I probably wouldn’t have taken this opportunity in Rhode Island a year ago,” Dilley.
The state recently awarded the dispensary licenses based on a lottery. The state was divided into six zones and each zone was allotted one dispensary. A retired FBI agent picked lottery balls from a machine while blindfolded with numbers that represented the different dispensaries. A total of 23 companies were entered into the lottery.
Solar Therapeutics Rhode Island, Inc. in Cranston was picked for the zone that includes Warwick.
“It’s a good time to be in the Rhode Island market,” Dilley said.
Dilley said that OSCB opened they hired employees who live in Rhode Island but previously worked in Massachusetts because of the lack of opportunities in Rhode Island.
“People love this state, they want to live here and they want to work here as well,” Dilley said.
In total 13 people work at the cultivation facility full-time along with four part timers.
One of those is Assistant Head Grower Jessica Patry who previously worked in Massachusetts but is happy to be able to work now in her home state.
“I love working with cannabis, it’s really helpful for people all over the world,” she said.
The cultivation aspect of the company is run by Kevin Rouleau who started growing medical marijuana as a patient and caregiver 10 years ago.
Originally from Connecticut he was getting ready to teach overseas in Japan when his childhood friend told him about opportunities to grow medical marijuana in Rhode Island.
After giving it some thought he thought it was a good opportunity and moved to the Ocean State.
“It wasn’t my initial plan,” Rouleau said.
Like other caregivers and patients Rouleau had the paperwork from the state which allowed him to donate cannabis to patients and to sell it to the state approved medical marijuana dispensaries.
In 2018 legislation was enacted in the state requiring medical marijuana cultivation had to be done in facilities.
Rouleau said that it changed his outlook on it and he became involved in the commercial cannabis industry taking a job at North East Alternative in Fall River, where after six months he became the cultivation manager before taking a job in Warwick about four months ago.
Dilley said that depending on how much they supply to the dispensaries they can have a couple thousand plants at a time.
According to Brian Hodge a spokesperson for Commerce Rhode Island “cultivation limits are designated by square footage of cultivation area, not by number of plants or amount of product. There are three license classes currently in place in Rhode Island that allow cultivators to utilize up to a certain number of square feet for cultivation activities.”
The three categories are “micro” which allows for an up to 2,500 square foot facility, “class A” which are for facilities up to 5,000 square feet, and “class B” which are up to 10,000 square feet.
Despite there being new medical marijuana dispensaries coming to Rhode Island the number of licensed marijuana cultivation facilities likely won’t increase drastically for now.
“There is no statutory limit; however, the number was naturally constrained by the length of the application period that closed on April 30, 2017,” Hodge wrote in an email. “ Since that time, the Assembly has imposed a statutory moratorium on the licensing of new cultivators.”
Hodge said that although no one can currently apply for a new cultivation license, he said that some applications have taken years to be approved, which explains why some licenses have been approved recently.
Dan Geagan a principal planner for Warwick said that like other types of businesses, marijuana cultivation facilities that are licensed by the state are allowed to operate in Warwick as long as they do so in the correct zoning district.
He said that the City’s Building Official classified marijuana cultivation facilities as a “Commercial Greenhouse” and said that a commercial greenhouse is allowed by-right in both General Industrial and Light Industrial Zoning Districts.
Cultivators also need to follow the guidelines set in place by the state in order to continue to operate.
Security measures for the different facilities is something that cultivators generally consider as vital for their operation.
Police Chief Bradford Connor declined to comment on the names and locations of the cultivation facilities in Warwick noting that they can be targeted for theft and breaking and entering.
“We have worked with many of the facilities to provide threat assessments and to recommend security measures; although the department and city do not mandate specific measures,” he said.