August 23, 2011

The Rhode Island Medical Society Urges Governor To Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

August 23, 2011
Rhode Island Marijuana Leaves

Rhode Island Marijuana LeavesBy W. Zachary Malinowski

The Rhode Island Medical Society, an early supporter of the state’s medical-marijuana program, is urging Governor Chafee to issue operating licenses to the three marijuana dispensaries that the Health Department selected in the spring.

Dr. Gary Bubly, society president, sent the four-paragraph letter to Chafee and Michael Fine, director of the state Health Department, and said that the establishment of dispensaries, also known as compassion centers, is critical to providing “a source of mechanism for patients to obtain their marijuana in a safe and legal manner.”

“It requires appropriate security and oversight allowing patients to obtain their marijuana in a controlled environment,” he wrote. “Further delay in implementing this law only serves to deny relief to patients suffering from the qualifying medical conditions.”

Christine Hunsinger, Chafee’s spokeswoman, said that her office received a copy of the letter last week, but that the governor has not had a chance to review it. She said that Chafee’s staff continues to review what other states across the country are doing in terms of issuing dispensary licenses, and his decision to place the three Rhode Island licenses “on hold” remains in effect.

Rhode Island is among 16 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized the use of medical marijuana. In March, following two years of review and public hearings, the state selected the three dispensaries to cultivate and sell marijuana to 3,906 licensed patients.

About 200 new patients are entering the program each month.

The patients get their marijuana from 2,445 caregivers who are licensed to grow up to 24 plants for up to five patients.

The number of caregivers continues to grow, but supporters of the medical-marijuana program say that the dispensaries are still desperately needed.

JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, said that patients often have disputes with their caregivers over pricing, delivery and quality of the marijuana. As a result, the relationship frequently falls apart and the patients have to turn to the street, buying marijuana illegally.

She has said that the dispensaries would give patients a safe place to buy a quality product.

The three dispensaries selected are: Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick and Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth.

In April, Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronhadelivered a letter to Chafee warning him that those involved in the dispensaries could be subject to criminal and civil prosecution if they engaged in large-scale drug-production operations. Summit projected revenues of more than $24 million after three years, while Slater and Greenleaf set three-year targets of nearly $4 million and $1.2 million.

Neronha was alarmed with the size of the three dispensaries. As a result, Chafee and his staff placed the issuance of licenses on hold, pending clarification from Neronha and the U.S. Justice Department.

Last month, advocates of the state’s medical-marijuana program were hopeful that Chafee would have a change of heart after New Jersey Gov. Christopher J. Christie gave the OK to open six marijuana dispensaries in that state. Christie, a Republican and a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, felt that issuing the licenses was a risk worth taking.

Other states in the Northeast, including Maine, Vermont and Delaware, have ignored the federal government’s threat and licensed or plan on issuing licenses to dispensaries.

So far, Chafee has not followed the lead of those states, much to the chagrin of Leppanen and the operators of the three dispensaries in Rhode Island.

Article From The Providence Journal


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