Bingo Time: Rhode Island holds lottery to select 5 medical marijuana dispensaries

Big bucks hinged on the way the balls bounced.

It wasn’t Powerball.

It’s how Rhode Island handed out five new medical marijuana dispensary licenses, with a lottery.

State regulators had vetted the applicants and narrowed the field to 23 finalists for the five compassion center licenses that were ultimately chosen Friday like lottery numbers.

The bouncing balls were provided by the Rhode Island Lottery. The numbered balls had been weighed, certified, and sealed for months with tape from the bomb squad.

A blindfolded staffer picked the winning numbers.

The Rhode Island Office of Cannabis Regulation holds a lottery to determine licenses for five new medical marijuana dispensaries.

“It seemed like we were in a weird Vegas sort of situation,” said one of the applicants.

“It almost looks like a bingo pullout,” said another.

The medical marijuana compassion center license lottery was run by Rhode Island’s Office of Cannabis Regulation.

The licenses were awarded in five geographic zones.

The first number called was that of RMI Compassion Center, headed by Dr. Paul Isikwe, who plans to open a medical dispensary in Woonsocket.

“I was excited of course,” Isikwe told NBC 10 News.

He has not been in the marijuana business before, which can be like cashing a lottery ticket.

“I look at it more on a patient side. Opening up multiple dispensaries, giving the patients more access to additional venues to where they can go seek treatment for their quality of life and improvements,” Isikwe said.

The licenses are highly sought, as Rhode Island has had only three medical dispensaries for the past seven years.

Another winner is Solar Therapeutics, which already has operations just over the border in Massachusetts, and is now planning to open in Cranston.

“I’m really glad the balls rolled in our favor,” Solar Therapeutics boss Edward Dow told NBC 10 News.

He hopes a medical dispensary will also someday lead to recreational use in Rhode Island.

“We started here medically, and now it’s adult use,” Dow said of his dispensary in Somerset.

What about those who weren’t lucky enough to have the balls bounce their way?

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that it was a fair process in a sense of you have experienced players that have put millions in infrastructure, jobs or what have you that had the same chance of people with no experience to handle this medicine,” said Alex Lavine of New England Compassion Center.

“Would you want to pick out of a hat if you were going to go have heart surgery or who’s going to be your pharmacist?,” Lavine said.

Others left out are OK with it.

“I though the process was phenomenal. I mean, Rhode Island has had an itchy background when it has come to awarding things, so this to me was a win-win for everybody involved, as transparent as could possibly be,” Jason Calderon of Compassion By Bonsai said.

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