Linc Chafee pushed DEA to reconsider cannabis
RI Future - By. Bob Plain - 08/13/16
The federal government might be comfortable equating marijuana to heroin, crack and meth, but Rhode Island isn’t. At least it wasn’t when Linc Chafee was our governor. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s recentheadline-grabbing decisionto keep cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug was the result of a request from the Chafee administration in 2011.
In a July 19 letter to Governor Gina Raimondo, Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator of the DEA, wrote, “On November 30, 2011, your predecessors, The Honorable Lincoln D. Chafee and The Honorable Christine O. Gregoire, petitioned the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to initiate rulemaking proceedings under the rescheduling provisions of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA),” according to the federal register. “Specifically, your predecessors petitioned the DEA to have marijuana and “related items” removed from Schedule I of the CSA and rescheduled as medical cannabis in Schedule II.”
The DEA, it should be noted, disagreed, writing to Raimondo, “Based on the HHS evaluation and all other relevant data, the DEA has concluded that there is no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from Schedule I.” It cited three main reasons: “Marijuana has a high potential for abuse. Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Marijuana lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” An editorial in today’s New York Times proves false each of those three reasons. The DEA was also responding to a request from the governor of Washington and a citizen of New Mexico.
While governor of Rhode Island, Chafee signed legislation to decriminalize less than an ounce of marijuana. But he declined to push Rhode Island to become the first state on the East Coast to tax and regulate marijuana. As a presidential candidate earlier this year, there was some reason to believe Chafee was considering campaigning as a pro-pot candidate after he said his position on full federal legalization would “evolve during the campaign.”
Governor Raimondo has taken a similar tack on taxing and legalizing marijuana as Chafee did during his tenure. “I could see Rhode Island eventually getting there, but I’m not going to rush,” she said in March. On medical marijuana, she pushed legislation that added a per-plant tax to patients who don’t grow their own.
Rhode Island has the highest per capita marijuana users in the nation and a recent poll found 55 percent of Rhode Islanders favor legalization. A different poll found 53 percent of Americans favor legalization.
More than just weed at Providence cannabis fest
The Providence Journal-Karen Lee Ziner-7/23/16
PROVIDENCE — The Medical Cannabis Festival on Saturday featured soundtracks from Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead as people perused the merchandise. Hand-blown, $250 art-glass pipes, wooden "pot pockets," funky jewelry and a display poster for "Train Wreck Strain" of marijuana.
But beyond the paraphernalia and free prizes lay serious concerns — and information — about accessible, affordable medical marijuana for people in need. People with such qualifying conditions as cancer; HIV/AIDS; multiple sclerosis; hepatitis C; epilepsy; and — newly legislated in Rhode Island — post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sponsored by the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), Saturday's festival on Bell Street on the West Side marked the 10th anniversary of Rhode Island's medical marijuana (MMj) program.
"This year has been challenging," said RIPAC executive director Joanne Leppanen, referring to legislative battles at the State House. "It's always challenging. But this is about people's medical needs. Look at all the people who have been helped. It's time to reflect and see how far we've come."
At various booths, event-goers could learn growing advice from plant experts, meet with representatives of Rhode Island's three licensed compassion centers, learn how to connect with caregivers, and get information about Rhode Island's evolving medical marijuana law — enacted in 2006.
Derek Cloutier said marijuana helps alleviate the PTSD he suffers as a result of his tour of duty in Iraq. Cloutier's PTSD is easily triggered.
He sees a car in a breakdown lane and his mind leaps to hidden explosive devices. Certain smells, barking dogs can plunge him into a nightmare.
"Things that happened around certain traumatic events, whether it's sniper fire, machine guns, mortars ... If you're in a firefight, if something's happening around you and there are certain smells — it's going to be ingrained in your brain," Cloutier said.
Cannabis "takes away that 'crazy mind,'" and allows him to focus, and calm down. He has been able to come off all other medications, including anti-depressants, he said.
Magdalena Andreozzi, who is an MMj card holder, said she stopped in "to learn what's going on with medical marijuana and medicinal marijuana use in the state of Rhode Island. I'm here to educate myself and listen to other people about what's happening, and where we're headed."
But it wasn't all about public policy and legal issues. There were hot dogs on the grill, and chair massages on a blistering hot day. And buying opportunities.
Jonathan Foster's merchandise featured an array of colorful pipes, including glass lobster claw pipes from Maine and the "Mick Jagger" pipe — lips with a tongue sticking out.
And "PAX", a $279 vape pipe that comes in a white box reminiscent of Apple products.
Foster noted, "It's the IPhone of vaporizers."
WARREN, R.I. — A retired Newport firefighter wants to open a "club" in the former Nathaniel Porter Inn where medical marijuana can be purchased and smoked while classes are offered on cultivation and cooking techniques.
For months, Patrick Rimoshytus has been searching for a home for his new venture, Green Cross of Rhode Island, with the hope of connecting medical marijuana users and growers in part because he believes the state-regulated dispensaries are too expensive.
"What he's trying to do is link up people who have available medicine with people who are in need of medicine. He certainly doesn't want to violate any law. When we went to Warren to meet with a building inspector, nothing specifically allowed for the placement of this facility, so we had to consider an ordinance," said Rimoshytus' attorney, Robert J. Healey Jr., the former Moderate Party gubernatorial candidate.
The Warren Planning Board has already unanimously approved an amendment to allow three "nonprofit medical marijuana care center(s) operating as membership club(s)" in districts zoned for business, manufacturing and waterfront among others. (The use would not be permitted in a residential area.) The Warren Town Council will have a public hearing on the amendment at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
If approved, the club would be a first for the state. Rimoshytus, who testified before the General Assembly multiple times this year on bills that would expand the state's medical marijuana program, had said he uses the drug for chronic pain and anxiety associated with his former career as a firefighter. He received a Carnegie Medal in 2013 for pulling a Barrington woman from a burning car and in the process suffered first-and-second degree burns.
He plans to operate Green Cross of Rhode Island as a nonprofit, members-only club with dues paid to support the cost of operation. The business was registered in December 2014 to "assist registered qualifying patients with information and services regarding the medical use of marijuana in a safe, secure and private environment."
But questions remain.
If Warren were to approve the zoning change and allow the club to operate, it's not entirely clear how the state would view the business.
Neither the Attorney General's Office nor the Department of Health were consulted on the proposal, but both suggested it could be problematic.
"A cursory look at the language of the suggested ordinance raises more questions than it answers. It is yet another example of the attempted expansion of marijuana in this state and is an exploitation of the medical marijuana program," said Amy Kempe, a spokeswomen for the Attorney General's Office.
Christina Batastini, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health, had this to say: "At present, the state is limited by statute to three compassion centers. ... The Department has concerns that a proposal like this could be used to circumvent the registration certificate required for a compassion center."
Healey said the proposal is in no means an attempt to skirt the law.
"It's an interesting little war because the compassion centers have a strong voice in the legislature, but the cost is really weighing on the patients," Healey said. "If the state is truly patient-oriented, they'll see this is not a bad idea. The Department of Health hasn't issued much guidance in this area, so everybody is groping in the dark to figure out how to implement state law."
Lawmakers first permitted the use of medical marijuana in 2006. In 2012, the stateeliminated criminal charges for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana. For five consecutive years, legislation proposing to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana has been introduced in the General Assembly, though the bills have not been approved.
This year, the House approved a measure to legalize the growth of hemp — cannabis with less than 1 percent of the psychoactive ingredient THC. The bill never cleared the Senate before the General Assembly's disheveled recess in June.
There are 11,427 qualifying medical marijuana patients in the state, and 3,263 people are registered caregivers.
There are also three state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries or "compassion centers" — in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth — where there are no limits to the number of patients that can be served.
Questions in town
Warren Councilman Steven Thompson said the proposal has created a "buzz" in the town for months. He's heard from residents concerned about everything from children's exposure to parking problems near the proposed location at 125 Water St.
He said he believes the council needs to publicly discuss the impact on the community with the potential for hundreds of people converging on the only such "club" in the state.
"As a society it seems like this is probably the direction we are moving towards, and Rhode Island has been toying with the sort of vague structure we have set up now for a while. My concern is that I want to be very sure that if we are going to put this as an allotted use we understand what the ramifications are," Thompson said.
PROVIDENCE — A Warwick consulting firm has received initial approval from the Health Department to become the first business in Rhode Island to provide assistance to patients seeking to join the state’s growing medical marijuana program.
B&B Consulting LLC, at 300 Toll Gate Rd., got the OK last week in a report from the Committee of the Health Services Council to establish an organized ambulatory care facility that will focus on medical marijuana.
Dr. Michael Fine, director of the Health Department, accepted the committee’s recommendation and gave initial approval to the application.
Jessica Cotton, the firm’s sole owner and administrator, said she thinks that B&B Consulting is the first medical marijuana consulting firm in the nation to gain approval from a state health department. She said that two doctors will make recommendations for patients to gain entry into the medical marijuana program.
“This is the only thing we are doing is medical marijuana evaluations,” Cotton said. “We are all ready. We are all set up.”
She hopes to get final Health Department approval by month’s end.
JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, welcomed B&B Consulting. She said too many patients are turned down by doctors at the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center and at community health centers. She said the doctors cannot recommend medical marijuana because the hospitals and centers are funded with federal dollars.
Under federal law, marijuana remains an illegal drug that is in the same category as heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.
She also said that both doctors have a deep knowledge about the drug’s benefits in dealing with certain medical problems. She supported the B&B application to the Health Department.
“Patients would prefer to go to a doctor who knows something about cannabis,” she said.
The two physicians are Dr. Timothy Spurrell and Dr. Thomas Robert Rocco Jr., who will serve as medical director at B&B Consulting. He is licensed in Rhode Island and Wisconsin and board-certified in general surgery.
According to the National Practitioner Data Bank Self Query that is included in the Health Department report, a $150,000 settlement was reached a year ago involving patient allegations that Rocco had performed “a negligent lymph node biopsy which resulted in suprascapular nerve damage and ongoing pain and suffering.” In November 2011, the report states that Rocco’s clinical privileges were reduced at Newport Hospital “as a result of a quality care investigation.”
Spurrell is a licensed physician in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Texas and Maryland and is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology.
The doctors, under state law, are required to establish and maintain medical records with qualifying patients for the medical marijuana program. They also must diagnose or confirm the diagnosis that qualifies them for marijuana use.
The state allows marijuana to be used to be used by certified patients for relief from chronic pain, cancer, HIV, AIDS, severe nausea and other ailments.
Once the recommendation is made, the patient goes to the Health Department where a final determination is made on whether the patient can be certified to join the medical marijuana program.
Cotton said that the doctors, who will work two days a week, have evaluated and recommended about 900 people for the medical marijuana program in the past 1½ years. She said that she and her husband, Bill, a patient in the program who suffers from multiple sclerosis, recruited the doctors for the firm.
B&B Consulting’s application to the Health Department also mentions that the firm will be seeking referrals from the Rhode Island Free Clinic and community health centers.
Andrea Bagnall-Degos, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said that 546 doctors in Rhode Island had made recommendations for patients to join the medical marijuana program. She also said that 89 doctors from Massachusetts and Connecticut have done the same for Rhode Island patients.
B&B projects evaluating 647 people the first year; 1,555 in year two; and 1,600 in year three. There will be a $200 charge for the initial medical visit, $140 for consultant services and $50 for a follow-up visit. The services are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or other health care insurance plans.
Rhode Island is one of 20 states, and the District of Columbia, with a medical marijuana program. The state’s first two dispensaries opened last spring. A third is expected to open early next year in Warwick.
State law permits only three dispensaries, otherwise known as compassion centers. Today, there are more than 6,700 medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island, a jump of nearly 25 percent from last spring.
Marijuana Decriminalization: Efforts To Relax Pot Rules Gaining Momentum In U.S.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Catharine Leach is married and has two boys, age 2 and 8. She has a good job with a federal contractor and smokes pot most every day.
While she worries that her public support for marijuana decriminalization and legalization could cost her a job or bring the police to her door, the 30-year-old Warwick resident said she was tired of feeling like a criminal for using a drug that she said is far less harmful than the glass or wine or can of beer enjoyed by so many others after a long day's work. Like others around the nation working to relax penalties for possession of pot, she decided to stop hiding and speak out.
"I'm done being afraid," she said. "People in this country are finally coming around and seeing that putting someone in jail for this doesn't make sense. It's just a changing of the time."
Once consigned to the political fringe, marijuana policy is appearing on legislative agendas around the country thanks to an energized base of supporters and an increasingly open-minded public. Lawmakers from Rhode Island to Colorado are mulling medical marijuana programs, pot dispensaries, decriminalization and even legalization. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now authorize medical marijuana and 14, including neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts, have rolled back criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot.
Rhode Island is poised to become the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana possession. The state's General Assembly passed legislation last week that would eliminate the threat of big fines or even jail time for the possession of an ounce or less of pot. Instead, adults caught with small amounts of marijuana would face a $150 civil fine. Police would confiscate the marijuana, but the incident would not appear on a person's criminal record.
Minors caught with pot would also have to complete a drug awareness program and community service.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he is inclined to sign the legislation.
One of the bill's sponsors, state Rep. John Edwards of Tiverton, has introduced similar proposals in past years but the idea always sputtered in committee. Each year, though, he got more co-sponsors, and the bill passed the House this year 50-24. The state Senate passed it 28-6.
Some supporters of decriminalization say they'd like to go even further.
"America's 50-year war on drugs has been an abysmal failure," said Rep. John Savage, a retired school principal from East Providence. "Marijuana in this country should be legalized. It should be sold and taxed."
Opponents warned of dire consequences to the new policy.
"What kind of message are we sending to our youth? We are more worried about soda – for health reasons – than we are about marijuana," said one opponent, Rhode Island state Rep. John Carnevale a Democrat from Providence.
A survey by Rasmussen last month found that 56 percent of respondents favored legalizing and regulating marijuana. A national Gallup poll last year showed support for legalizing pot had reached 50 percent, up from 46 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in the mid-'90s.
Medical marijuana helped bring marijuana policy into the mainstream back in 1996, when California became the first state to authorize the use of cannabis for medicinal use. Other states followed suit.
"It's now politically viable to talk about these things," said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports the reduction or elimination of penalties for medical and recreational pot use. "The public understands that there are substances that are far more harmful – alcohol, tobacco – that we regulate. People are realizing just how much money is being wasted on prohibition."
Colorado and Washington state will hold fall referendums on legalizing marijuana. A ballot question on legalization failed in California in 2010.
This month, Connecticut's governor signed legislation to allow medical marijuana there. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed cutting the penalty for public possession of small amounts of pot.
Liberal state policies on marijuana have run into conflict with federal prohibition. Federal authorities have shut down more than 40 dispensaries this year in Colorado, even though they complied with state and local law. In Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee blocked three dispensaries from opening last year after the state's top federal prosecutor warned they could be prosecuted. Chafee and lawmakers then rewrote the dispensary law to restrict the amount of marijuana dispensaries may have on hand.
Robert DuPont, who served as the nation's drug czar under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, said Americans should be wary of a slippery slope to legalization. While marijuana may not cause the life-threatening problems associated with heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, it's far from harmless.
"It is a major drug of abuse," he said. "People ask me what the most dangerous drug is, and I say marijuana. Other drugs have serious consequences that are easy to recognize. Marijuana saps people's motivation, their direction. It's a drug that makes people stupid and lazy. That's in a way more dangerous."
The magazine could be called Reefer Relief
Somewhere between “Reefer Madness” and Cheech and Chong, there is actual information to be had about what marijuana does to, and for, the people who use it. Few natural substances have inspired so much distortion and misinformation, so much obscene waste of time, money and resources. And now, with Rhode Island caught in a schizophrenic breakdown over marijuana — passing a law to legalize its medical use, then having the law weakened by the governor’s refusal to license compassion centers — there is a clear need to clear the smoke from the room and consider what this leaf can actually mean to people. So pick up a copy of Releaf at a small business near you. It is a magazine published in Providence, staffed by patients who use medical marijuana and filled with news of how marijuana does and doesn’t work in this strange world where a vital source of relief is only a little bit legal. “We felt the need for some form of presence — of what is going on,” said Carlos Reyes, a co-founder of the magazine. Reyes, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, said he was moved to do something, in part, by a story told by a friend of a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis. The woman’s boss suggested she try marijuana. She found that it relaxed her, helped her deal with the pain of MS. When she told her doctor, he told her to stop using it or he would stop being her doctor. It does get that crazy. People are suffering, they find relief and the doctor says forget about it. The monthly magazine, which marks its first anniversary in December, looks at the crazy stuff, the ugly stuff and day-today reality. In the October issue is a story on Robert Platshorn, a martyr to some, who served almost 30 years in prison for marijuana smuggling in a case that became a stunning example of how far the war on drugs will go to keep the war on drugs going. There is also a look at fibromyalgia, the chronic pain disorder, and how some sufferers have found the pain is eased by marijuana. “We want to present cannabis as approachable and understandable and everyone can live with it,” said Reyes. “And it doesn’t kill.” Marijuana will always be with us, hopefully in a way that allows its healthy application without the legal bob-and-weave. So we need information, instead of SWAT teams and legal briefs. We need to talk about it in a way that recognizes its healing promise and its twisted history. Releaf helps. It is about marijuana in often painful detail. Even within that small population in Rhode Island where marijuana is legally sold and administered, there are strange things going on that seldom make it into the public debate. Reyes said that some caregivers under the medical-marijuana law exploit their privilege to grow it. They give patients less than they need, he said, then sell the rest illegally at a very lucrative price. “It happens a lot,” said Reyes. It happens, of course, because as long as marijuana remains illegal, the illegal traffic will thrive. And people will get hurt. Releaf is available for free at the businesses that advertise in it. You might know of one. Or you can go to releaf.co.
Peter Fontana and his fianceé Laura Matteson were like any other couple preparing for their wedding. The ceremony was planned, reception booked and final dress and tux fittings scheduled. All that was left was the rehearsal and final countdown to their big day.
Devastating news from Fontana’s doctor, however, forced the couple to put their fall wedding on hold.
The Johnston resident, who lived in Cranston most of his life, is not a fan of doctors, but constant high fevers forced him to give in and visit his physician. A blood test showed he had a low platelet count and further tests revealed shocking news–he had been living with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia for three years. AML is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow and it’s the most common type of acute Leukemia in adults.
Days later, Fontana was admitted to the Bone Marrow unit at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, the only one in the state, and given aggressive chemotherapy treatment. He has been hospitalized since August 18 and will undergo another round of treatment this week.
The otherwise perfectly healthy small business owner was devastated by the news and severity of his cancer and so were his loved ones.
“I felt frozen, nervous and sick,” Matteson said. “I remembered trying to stay strong and positive so Pete wouldn’t see me worried.”
“Honestly, it’s awful and the first thing I thought of was why him,” said Tricia Flori, Fontana’s younger sister. “I wanted it to be me instead. He had so much to look forward to in the next few months and now it’s all on the backburner.”
Her brother needs a bone marrow transplant. She and her sister Christina have been tested, but neither are a match. Doctors have found two possible matches from the bone marrow bank. If a match is found, Fontana will have a transplant at the end of October.
Flori said she and the rest of her family are doing what they can to be strong and are collaborating with friends and relatives to help him through not only the emotional, but financial hardship that will come from him not being strong enough to work. An entrepreneur, Fontana started two small businesses, Pro Building Inc. and Rhode Island Inflatables.
A mother of two, Flori said she is putting her own feelings aside and doing what she needs to do for her brother and Matteson. She and family friends have organized a yard sale. All sales and any donations will go to helping the family. The yard sale is being held Saturday, Sept. 17 8 a.m. at 59 Nelson Rd. in Cranston (off Comstock Parkway).
“She’s my best friend and he’s my brother and I feel like I have to be strong and support them,” Flori said.
Close friend and Cranston school teacher Melissa Polofsky has organized a dress down day for the month of September. Each month the staff at Hope Highlands contribute to a cause in order to dress down one day each week. Polofsky, who has been a close family friend of the Fontanas, has encouraged her colleagues to dress down for Fontana.
Fontana has good days and bad. There are days when he is weak and can barely pick up the phone, she said.
“We are speaking to him in a positive way,” Flori added. “He will get better. It will take time. It takes strength and we tell him to keep looking forward to the day he will marry Laura.”
Fontana has another special lady in his life. Her name is Lina and she’s four. He has not been able to see his littler girl because of his weakened immune system. Not seeing his little girl has been a challenge to Fontana who describes Lina as his life.
“He and Laura explained to her that daddy was sick but, was with doctors and they would be there to help him,” Flori said. “They explained the mask he had to wear and scrubs and they told her she needed to wash her hands all of the time before being near daddy.
The two have taken to the Internet to stay connected through Skype. Using Skype to connect has helped to create some normalcy for Fontana, but some days he’s too tired or sick from the treatment to see or talk to anyone.
Matteson is determined to bring her fiance home.
“I look at the love of my life in pain everyday and all I can keep telling him is I will make sure that we will do whatever it takes to get him health and strong again."