Proposed bill would amend R.I. medical-marijuana law
01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, February 16, 2011
By Philip Marcelo
Journal State House Bureau
PROVIDENCE –– A Providence lawmaker has again submitted a bill that would phase out the practice of using individually licensed suppliers, known as caregivers, to grow or keep marijuana for patients, as well as close what he says are significant loopholes in the state’s medical-marijuana laws.
The proposal, which state Rep. John M. Carnevale, D-Providence, submitted on Tuesday, would require that, effective Jan. 1, 2013, the growing and selling of medical marijuana would be allowed only in state-sanctioned dispensaries known as compassion centers.
The state Department of Health is in the process of selecting the group that will open the state’s first such center.
Under the current medical-marijuana law, a patient legally allowed to use marijuana can either grow the plant at home (up to a maximum of 12 mature plants) or he or she can designate a “caregiver,” an individual who is licensed to grow marijuana in larger quantities (up to 24 mature marijuana plants). A caregiver can only provide marijuana for up to five registered medical-marijuana patients.
Carnevale says his bill, which he first submitted last year, would address the abuse and crime that have plagued communities since the enactment of the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act in 2006.
Last year, Carnevale, along with fellow retired Providence police officer and former state Rep. Joseph Almeida, submitted the bill close on the heels of a Providence Journal story about Orlando Martino, a Providence man with a record of drug arrests who, at the time, was seeking to have drug-possession charges dismissed based on his approval, months after his arrest, for a medical-marijuana card.
Martino pleaded no contest in June 2010 to a single felony count of possession of marijuana and was sentenced to two years, of which 3 months would be served in the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston, and 21 months suspended.
Carnevale argues that in the months since, medical-marijuana-related crimes — from armed break-ins to house fires related to growing marijuana indoors to caregivers and patients illegally growing and selling marijuana for profit — have increased.
“We can’t control what happens in individual homes,” he said Monday. “What it has created is a dangerous situation for the law-abiding citizens in our neighborhoods.”
Like last year’s version, Carnevale’s bill would also amend the law between now and when the caregivers would be eliminated from the medical-marijuana pipeline.
One such proposal would bar the state from registering anyone with a capital offense or felony drug conviction as a caregiver. Another would repeal the law that currently allows registered patients and caregivers to share marijuana with other registered patients or caregivers, as long as no money is exchanged.
“If we’re treating it like a medicine, why are we letting people swap it back and forth? Do we let patients swap Vicodin?” he said.
Other significant changes include having the state police, rather than the Health Department, conduct regular inspections and records reviews at compassion centers. The bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, would also allow for a majority, rather than all, of the principal officers and board members of a compassion center to be Rhode Island residents.