Rhode Island Tells Dispensary to Remove Billboards or Face Penalties

Massachusetts cannabis companies may advertise on billboards in the state, but Rhode Island operators cannot.

Rhode Island authorities put a quick stop last week to an act of civil disobedience by the owner of cannabis shop Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket, when they told him to remove three new billboards for the dispensary or face fines of up to $10,000 per day.

The owner, Joe Pakuris, put up the trio of billboards just last week to tell motorists on Interstate 95 where they could find his adult-use cannabis store – and to illustrate a glaring loophole in the state’s rules for cannabis companies like his: Massachusetts marijuana businesses can advertise on billboards in Rhode Island, but state-licensed recreational cannabis retailers in Rhode Island cannot.

Aside from the possible fines, Pakuris was told his business license could be in jeopardy if he kept the billboards up.

All of the billboards were taken down by Sunday night, WPRI reported, despite several more billboards for Massachusetts marijuana companies remaining along the highway. Pakuris told The Providence Journal that the rule puts his shop at a competitive disadvantage, given that his store is with five miles of the Massachusetts border.

Pakuris estimated to the newspaper that his sales would likely go up 30% or more if he was allowed to advertise the same way Massachusetts companies are, and said his staff encounters customers daily who say they’d been driving across the border to buy weed until a friend informed them that Mother Earth Wellness is now selling recreational.

Rhode Island only began adult-use sales in December, while the Massachusetts market launched in 2018.

There is a push underway in the Rhode Island Legislature to change the rules and allow billboards such as Pakuris’s. House Bill 5829 was approved earlier this month in the lower chamber but still has to be approved by the state Senate.

John Schroyer

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