RI lawmakers approve medical marijuana plan
The measure now heads to Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who is expected to sign it into law. Once that happens dispensaries could be open within several months.
Under the bill, dispensaries would be allowed to possess up to 1,500 ounces of marijuana. The proposal would also allow law enforcement to inspect dispensaries and give the state police a seat on the board overseeing the facilities. All three provisions were added to assuage the concerns of federal authorities.
“This is a work in progress,” said the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence. “There are caps in place. ... I think once people see these compassion centers up and running and helping so many people, they’ll be proud.”
The House voted 64-7 Wednesday to pass its version of the legislation. It then approved the Senate version, too, sending the proposal to Chafee’s desk.
Three state-authorized dispensaries were planning to open last year when Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha warned they could face criminal prosecution for violating federal drug laws. Chafee halted the process, and then worked with lawmakers this year on the compromise.
While supporters are optimistic, there’s no guarantee the new rules will satisfy federal authorities.
After the Senate approved its version of the bill last week, Neronha issued a statement indicating that the U.S. Justice Department remains concerned about “large-scale commercial cultivation and distribution” of marijuana. Neronha warned last year that while patients wouldn’t face prosecution, dispensary operators might.
More than 4,400 Rhode Islanders are now enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program.
State law allows patients to legally possess small amounts of marijuana to treat conditions including chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures and multiple sclerosis.
In 2009, lawmakers passed legislation to set up compassion centers where patients could obtain marijuana in a state-regulated environment.
RI lawmakers to take up marijuana dispensary rules
The Gov will take the lead from the Feds......Narahona said no, there's your answer. -UA
PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Rhode Island's state-licensed marijuana dispensaries could open within months, but they may not last long if the state adopts strict rules on the amount of marijuana they can have, medical marijuana advocates said Tuesday.
State lawmakers are set to review a proposed compromise on Wednesday that was crafted to let the three state-picked dispensaries to open, potentially within six months. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, blocked the dispensaries from opening last year after the state's top federal prosecutor warned they could face prosecution.
The compromise seeks to avoid federal intervention by setting limits on the amount of marijuana the dispensaries could have. But medical marijuana supporters said the dispensaries must be allowed to have enough marijuana on hand to meet demand. Otherwise, they might not be able to pay their bills, said JoAnne Leppanen, director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.
"Everybody wants this to happen," she told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "But the fear is that we're going to come in too low, that we're going to put such a burden on the compassion centers that it may not be possible for them to sustain themselves."
It would be up to the state's Department of Health to set the limits once lawmakers approve the compromise. The Health Department plans to hold public hearings on the regulations once the bill passes.
Lawmakers who brokered the compromise with Chafee said it's designed to be flexible. If federal authorities again threaten to prosecute, the limits on the dispensaries could be tightened. If the dispensaries complain the limits are too strict, they could be relaxed.
"The challenge was getting a bill that will pass," said Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence. "Yes, some of these details may be problematic. But we're moving ahead."
Perry said she hopes the General Assembly can pass the legislation quickly to allow the dispensaries to open, perhaps within six months.
The uncertainty means the dispensaries must plan to open without knowing how much marijuana they will be allowed to dispense.
Seth Bock, chief executive of the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center of Portsmouth, said he'd like lawmakers to suggest a rough idea of how much marijuana would be allowed. The state could fine-tune the restrictions later, he said.
"Give us something in the law that allows us to move forward," said Bock, who practices acupuncture and Chinese medicine. "Without any guidance on volume it's impossible to decide if it's worth investing X amount of money to get this off the ground."
Greenleaf is one of the three dispensaries chosen by the state. The other two are the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence and Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island Peter Neronha said federal authorities have not endorsed the compromise and remain opposed to large-scale commercial operations for medical marijuana.
In his letter to the state last year, Neronha warned that while patients wouldn't face prosecution, dispensary operators might.
Rhode Island enacted a law in 2006 allowing patients to legally possess small amounts of marijuana to treat conditions including chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures and multiple sclerosis. In 2009, lawmakers passed legislation to set up nonprofit dispensaries -- known as compassion centers -- where patients could obtain marijuana in a state-regulated environment.
More than 4,400 Rhode Islanders are now enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program.
George DesRoches said the dispensaries will play a critical role in the state's medical marijuana program by giving patients a safe and reliable place to purchase their medicine. The 45-year-old Providence man grows his own marijuana to treat chronic pain and fibromyalgia.
Earlier this month four men held him at gunpoint and stole marijuana and his laptop computer. DesRoches said Tuesday that the dispensary compromise is good news, but he's waiting to see how the state decides to regulate the facilities.
"I'm pretty jaded at this point," he said. "I'm hopeful they can find a way to do it, but if you set people up to fail, they will."
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Catharine Leach: Chafee too slow on marijuana centers
providence journal 03 August 2011
While Chafee takes all the time in the world to make up his mind about marijuana dispensaries, people are suffering, putting off life-saving chemotherapy and radiation treatments (because they can't survive it without medical marijuana), and even putting themselves at risk trying to find medicine on the black market.
Also consider the impact of this delay on the business interests that are now paying rent for empty space, incurring huge bills for equipment and start-up costs, etc.
There is a huge backlash forming for his lack of leadership on this issue. He took the seat of governor knowing this was what his voters and the citizens of Rhode Island want, and now that he's in power he is a lame duck.
His obvious lack of a sense of urgency over this issue, which truly is an issue of compassion and simply following the laws of Rhode Island, is disturbing, and I hope voters will remember this when election time comes again.
The writer is a blogger for CannabisCulture.com and is a contributing writer for Releaf Magazine.
Threats of federal crackdown in New England
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, May 11, 2011
By W. Zachary Malinowski projo.com
PROVIDENCE — Peter F. Neronha, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, is not alone among the top federal prosecutors in New England when it comes to threatening raids on large-scale marijuana dispensaries that have opened or plan to open and sell medical marijuana.
There is plenty of talk of similar federal crackdowns in Maine, Vermont and Connecticut. Two of the states, Maine and Vermont, have medical-marijuana programs, and Maine is the first state on the East Coast to open a marijuana dispensary. The legislature in Connecticut is pressing forward with plans to establish a medical-marijuana program.
In recent days, U.S. Attorney Tristram J. Coffin, in Vermont, sent a letter to lawmakers that is similar to one that Neronha delivered to Governor Chafee stating that the proposed dispensaries are drug-trafficking operations that would be violating federal drug laws.
The Justice Department considers marijuana a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, or drug, with no proven medicinal value.
“Individuals who elect to operate marijuana-cultivation facilities will be doing so in violation of federal law,” Coffin wrote. “Others who knowingly facilitate such industrial-cultivation activities, including property owners, landlords, and financiers, should also know that their conduct violates federal law.”
The threatening letter did not sway state legislators. Last week, the Vermont House voted 99 to 44 to approve a bill that would establish four medical-marijuana dispensaries in the state. Gov. Peter Shumlin, who sponsored a similar bill in the Senate last year, is expected to sign the legislation into law.
In Maine, the state’s first dispensary, Safe Alternatives, opened its doors a month ago in a residential house on Route 1 in Frenchville, Maine, less than a mile from an elementary school. The state also has authorized the opening of seven other dispensaries across the state.
Don Clark, a federal prosecutor who serves as the spokesman for Thomas E. Delahanty II, the U.S. Attorney for Maine, said that his office has received an inquiry from the legislature’s Health & Human Services Committee on whether the federal authorities plan on taking any action against the dispensaries.
Clark said that the matter is under review.
“Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance,” he said. “And, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”
Clark said that Delahanty has been in contact with U.S. attorneys from several of the 15 states that have permitted licensed patients to use or grow marijuana.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to make clear that the Department of Justice will not “prioritize prosecution” of people who comply with state medical-marijuana laws.
Connecticut has yet to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes or draft legislation for the creation of dispensaries. But last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other top Democratic leaders announced that they want to pass a law that would allow patients to grow marijuana indoors, provided that they get a physician’s approval.
Some legislators also want the state to pass an amendment that would permit dispensaries.
Rep. Gerald Fox, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told The Connecticut Mirror last week that he was keeping an eye on developments in other states, such as Rhode Island, but he believes that the legislation will prevail.
“I don’t think that will hold up the bill,” he said. “I will certainly pay attention to the federal government when something happens.”
On April 29, the issue took hold in Rhode Island when word leaked out that Neronha, the state’s top federal prosecutor, had delivered a letter to Governor Chafee warning him that his office may prosecute, or get civil injunctions, against the three dispensaries that the state Health Department recently selected to cultivate and sell medical marijuana.
The three are Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth, Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick, and Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence. Summit, in its proposal to the Health Department, projected revenues of $25 million for 8,000 patients by 2013.
Today, there are just over 3,400 licensed patients in Rhode Island.
Leaders in the state medical-marijuana community expressed outrage at Neronha’s letter, and they accused him of being insensitive to the needs of patients suffering from cancer, chronic pain and other debilitating medical conditions.
Neronha said that he had no plans to go after the state’s 2,200 licensed caregivers who are allowed to grow up to 24 marijuana plants for up to five patients.
Jim Martin, Neronha’s spokesman, declined to say whether Neronha was simply following a mandate from the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. He did say that Neronha has discussed the issue with other U.S. attorneys in states that permit the use of medical marijuana.
In the wake of Neronha’s letter, Governor Chafee has “placed a hold” on the opening of the three dispensaries in Rhode Island. They were planning on opening for business by late summer or early fall.
The action is more than just a threat out West. In Montana and Washington, federal authorities have executed search warrants at various medical dispensaries and grow sites. They also seized about $4 million from banks in three Montana cities.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer has been an outspoken critic of medical-marijuana dispensaries, but she said she respects the will of the people and does not plan on blocking the licensing of 126 dispensaries. She took offense at U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke’s threat to crack down on Arizona’s dispensaries.
“You know what I would say to Dennis Burke?” she said. “Why don’t they enforce their immigration laws?”
Update: Chafee puts hold on RI medical-pot centers
2:37 PM Mon, May 02, 2011 tracy breton projo
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Governor Chafee announced Monday that he has "placed a hold" on the state's medical marijuana dispensary program in light of a warning issued by the U.S. Attorney here that he might prosecute or take civil action against the centers and anyone involved with them.
The owner of one of those planned centers said in response that he was disappointed, but hopeful that Chafee would be able to work with other governors to remove the threat that could prevent their opening. And Rhode Island's attorney general said he had no plans for state prosecution of the centers or those associated with them.
State Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, who was the prime sponsor of Rhode Island's medical-marijuana dispensary statute, called Chafee's action "appropriate" in light of statements U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha has made intimating that he would raid the dispensaries if they were open.
"I don't know where this comes from," Perry said of Neronha's views of the dispensaries. "It is quite bothersome to me."
But she said "maybe there may be something we might be able to amend in our current law" before the end of this session that would address the Justice Department's concerns. "There are thousands of people who need the substance and need it in a legal way."
Six weeks ago, the state Health Department tentatively approved licenses for three such dispensaries to open in Rhode Island. The three have been planning to open this summer.
But on Friday, Neronha, in a letter hand-delivered to Chafee's office, threatened to take action against against those involved with the "compassion centers" if they open. Andon Sunday, in an interview with The Providence Journal, the U.S. Attorney said he hoped the dispensaries don't open because he considers them to be large-scale for-profit cannabis production centers that are against federal law.
One of the approved dispensaries estimates that it will be serving 8,000 patients and taking in $25 million in revenue by 2013, Neronha pointed out.
Chafee, in a press release issued by his deputy press secretary Christian Vareika, said that "during this hiatus, I will be consulting with the governors of other states with similar medical marijuana programs, with federal officials and with the compassion center applicants themselves."
He noted that "none of Rhode Island's compassion center applicants have received a certificate of registration to date. In light of the United States Attorney's articulated position on closing compassion centers, seizing proceeds and prosecuting business enterprises that market and sell medical marijuana, I have placed a hold on the state's medical marijuana certificate of registration program."
The three planned state-approved dispensaries are Summit Medical Compassion Center, in Warwick; the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, in Providence; and Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth.
Seth Bock, chief executive officer of Greenleaf, just got his building permit Monday from the Town of Portsmouth to start constructing his dispensary; he'd planned to open in August in the Portsmouth Industrial Park on High Point Avenue. But now, he says, he is going to hold off on starting construction on the 1-story, 6,000-square-foot building until he gets more assurance from the state that the dispensary program can legally go forward.
"it wouldn't make sense to start construction now if they're going to pull the plug on the entire program," he said.
Bock, an acupuncurist and herbalist, said Greenleaf has spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on plans for his facility, the health department registration process, attorneys' fees "and thousands of dollars in unpaid effort to build a perfect model of how to run a compassion center."
While disappointed in Chafee's announcement today, which he referred to a "a little bit of a surprise," he said "it's understandable that the governor would want to research this a little bit more.
"In my opinion, Rhode island has crafted a program that we feel the Department of Justice would want to stand behind, as opposed to the types of dispensaries that are in the media a lot in California and other states out in the Wild West."
Rhode Island, Bock said, built its program in an attempt to comply with Department of Justice concerns. "The Department of Health put together a compassion center program where on Page One we're defined as a 'caregiver operation.' When you look at the volume of medicine, we;re just a natural extension of the current caregiver program."
Bock said he was "a little surprised" that no one in Chafee's office, the Health Department or the General Assembly had conferred with Neronha before approving applications for the compassion centers. But he added, "It seems to me that the Rhode Island General Assembly feels as though this is a states' rights issue. They knew federal law banned marijuana" when they enacted medical-marijuana laws and approved dispensaries. "We feel they'd done their due diligence in working with the local chapter of the Department of Justice."
Bock said that he is optimistic that compassion centers will open in Rhode Island and that some consensus will be forged between state and federal authorities regarding the legality of them.
"I feel strongly that we are going to prevail on this. I think Chafee is signalling by his action today that he is reaching out to try to build a consensus with other governors, and hopefully this will be a turning point with the governors being on board to bring this to the national level and start to create change."
He said he planned "to continue to fight for the rights of these patients who really need this drug in a safe, controlled environment."
The Health Department, which has been in charge of soliciting and approving applications for the dispensaries, said it would have no comment Monday on the medical-marijuana program, which currently serves more than 3,350 patients in Rhode Island.
Annemarie Beardsworth, spokesperson for the department, said: "All inquiries on this topic are being handled by the Governor's Office."
The state's new attorney general, Peter F. Kilmartin voted while a member of the Rhode Island House to allow medical marijuana and create state-licensed dispensaries for its distribution. He said today through a spokeswoman that the question of their legality is not something his office intends to pursue.
"The general's position is that this doesn't fall under the purview of this office," said Amy Kempe, Kilmartin's press officer. "We uphold state law, and state law has carved out an exception for medical marijuana and compassion centers. Our office cannot prosecute [the dispensaries] so long as individuals and the compassion centers are operated within the boundaries of state law.
"Our office would not have authority to prosecute ... but that does not stop the federal authorities," Kempe emphasized. "This is a conflict between state law and federal law."
However, Kempe said that Kilmartin plans to introduce a bill this legislative session that would "tighten up the current medical-marijuana laws." She declined to be more specific.
Senator Perry said, "It didn't appear to us that our legislation would be looked upon as an interstate commercial activity" that the federal government would pounce on.
"To our view," she said, "we've designed a tightly regulated approach so that patients can receive a quality product through a legal mechanism."
Governor Chafee is in North Carolina today at a conference on education, and then he will sit in on a discussion with four other past governors of Rhode Island.
Read the full statement from Governor Chafee:
"Statement from Governor Lincoln D. Chafee Regarding Compassion Centers
"The United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island delivered a letter to me on Friday afternoon which was copied to the Director of the Department of Health and the three Compassion Center applicants. That letter, as well as similar letters sent to officials in other states, clarified the Department of Justice's position on medical marijuana. The Department of Justice previously indicated that it would not focus its limited resources on doctors and their sick patients who prescribe and use marijuana if such use was permitted by state law. This position was interpreted by some states as giving them latitude to authorize medical marijuana cultivation and distribution programs. Friday's letter makes it clear that DOJ will now pursue certain commercial cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, even if such cultivation and distribution is permitted by state law. Compassion centers, their owners, landlords, financiers and other operations "facilitators" are identified as potential targets of federal law enforcement activities.
"None of Rhode Island's compassion center applicants have received a certificate of registration to date. In light of the United States Attorney's articulated position on closing compassion centers, seizing proceeds and prosecuting business enterprises that market and sell medical marijuana, I have placed a hold on the State's medical marijuana certificate of registration program. During this hiatus, I will be consulting with the governors of other states with similar medical marijuana programs, with federal officials and with the compassion center applicants themselves."
Deputy Press Secretary
Communications Office of Governor Lincoln D. Chafee
State House Room 109
Ok everyone........now is the time to make your voice heard........-UA
US Attorney to Chafee: Medical-pot centers violate US law
fri 4/29/11 projo.com
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha has told Governor Chafee that the state law establishing three medical-marijuana centers violates federal law and could lead to civil and criminal prosecution.
The three-page letter was hand-delivered to the governor's office Friday afternoon.
"The Act, the registration scheme it purports to authorize, and the anticipated operation of the three centers appear to permit large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution," Neronha wrote.
"Accordingly, the Department of Justice could consider civil and criminal legal remedies against those individuals and entities who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries, as such actions are in violation of federal law."
For one thing, the letter said, under federal law it is illegal to manufacture, distribute or possess with intent to distribute marijuana, or use property to manufacture, store or distribute the drugs.