RI Office of Cannabis Regulation has a new chief, a former policy director for Raimondo

Tom Mooney

| The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE — The state Office of Cannabis Regulation, which is spearheading the effort to add six new medical marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island, has a new chief, Matthew Santacroce, a former policy director for Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Santacroce, who left the Raimondo administration in 2018 and most recently worked at The Policy Lab, a collaborative think tank run by Brown University, began his new job in cannabis regulation just weeks ago.

Santacroce, who earned $93,575 as Raimondo’s policy director, was appointed on Jan. 19 as the Department of Business Regulation’s new cannabis chief with a salary of $121,030, according to the Department of Administration.

He will direct the eight-member cannabis regulation office created a few years ago to reform and better regulate the state’s medical marijuana program.

Under the leadership of Santacroce’s predecessor, Norman Birenbaum, cannabis regulators created a system of state-licensed cultivators who supply much of the marijuana now sold at the state’s existing three dispensaries. The regulators also implemented new regulations on testing and packaging and standardized dosage.

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With most of those once-debated reforms now in place, expect Santacroce to play a less public role than Birenbaum, though that could change if the General Assembly takes up the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana.

“His role will be ensuring the expansion of the medical program and that the priorities of the administration are carried out,” said DBR spokesman Brian Hodge.

One of those immediate priorities is the planned expansion of six new medical marijuana dispensaries, pitched by Raimondo as a way to improve access to medical marijuana to patients around the state and to encourage more price competition.

In December, 28 marijuana companies, many with marijuana-growing affiliations in other states — submitted applications in the hopes of qualifying for a lottery later this year for a license to operate one of those six new regional dispensaries.

In a Feb. 1 letter posted on the DBR website, Santacroce reminded those applicants that they were required to submit updates to their applications listing any change of corporate officers or directors and any action taken by local zoning authorities on their proposed dispensary businesses.

Santacroces said his office “is in the process of qualifying submitted license applications for the upcoming lottery and will have further updates on timing and next steps by mid-February.”

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