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."
Gov. Chafee Stalling On Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Compassion Centers
by Robert Capecch theweedblog.com
It’s been nearly four months now since Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) decided to place a hold on his state’s compassion center program. Concerned that individuals involved in the compassion centers and state employees acting in compliance with the law would be targeted and prosecuted by federal officials, the governor has since refused to grant certificates of operation to the three entities previously chosen by the state health department to operate the centers. It’s time Gov. Chafee ends his hold and fully implements the compassion center program in Rhode Island.
Gov. Chafee’s initial fear that state employees would be prosecuted, or even threatened with prosecution, by the federal government for performing job duties consistent with a medical marijuana law should have been put to rest recently. In a motion-to-dismiss a suit challenging the Arizona medical marijuana program, a Department of Justice attorney argued that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s claims were frivolous, in part because she could point to no “genuine threat that any state employee will face imminent prosecution under federal law” and that she “can point to no threat of enforcement against the State’s employees.” Likewise, there have been no threats by the DOJ that Rhode Island state employees would face federal charges for performing their duties under their medical marijuana program.
Additionally, Gov. Chafee can find inspiration and assurance from the actions of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) who recently announced his intention to fully implement New Jersey’s medical marijuana law. Gov. Christie stated that, as a former U.S. Attorney, he sees no reason why his state’s medical marijuana program would invite federal interference. Rhode Island’s law is similar to New Jersey’s in that it allows for only a finite number of dispensaries to serve the patient population, making it easier for the state to adequately regulate the industry.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island lack the safe, immediate, and regulated access to their medicine that so many of their peers in other states have. When the Rhode Island General Assembly approved of compassion centers, they did so because they understood that a regulated supply system is preferable to patients accessing their medicine via the criminal market. Seemingly, Gov. Chafee understands this as well. However, his refusal to issue the operation certificates, despite the lack of an imminent threat of federal prosecution, not only hurts the patients, but also calls into question his respect for the laws passed by the legislative branch of Rhode Island.
The role of the governor is to execute the laws of a given state, not to block duly enacted legislation from being implemented. The legislature of Rhode Island overwhelmingly approved of compassion centers, as do the people of Rhode Island. Gov. Chafee recently refused to hand over a confessed murderer to the feds because, under federal law, the murderer could face the death penalty. Gov. Chafee points out that it is the public policy of his state to avoid the death penalty. I’d like to point out that a compassion center program, even though that too runs contrary to federal law, was a debated and enacted public policy decision of his state. The governor should respect his legislature, stand up for his constituents, and fully execute the laws of his state by issuing compassion center certificates of operation immediately.
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, March 23, 2011
By W. Zachary Malinowski / PROJO
Bruce Vanicek, owner and operator of Rhode Island Nurseries, runs a highly successful business that grows wholesale shrubbery for suppliers along the Eastern seaboard and as far away as Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. The nursery, which has been around since the 19th century, covers about 500 acres on the outskirts of Newport.
Now, Vanicek is set to embark on a historic new adventure in Rhode Island: cultivating large quantities of marijuana for Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, in Portsmouth, one of three dispensary organizations selected by the state Department of Health last week to sell medicinal marijuana.
“Sometimes, you have to pinch yourself,” he said. “You go home at night and think, ‘Wow! What am I doing?’ ”
Vanicek is not alone. He sets out on his new mission with growers, or horticulturists, at The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center organization in Providence and Summit Medical Compassion Center group in Warwick. The three organizations are rushing to build-out or renovate their dispensary and cultivation sites as they get ready to sell marijuana to as many as 3,200 licensed patients in the state.
The marijuana will be grown inside expansive warehouse-type buildings and the first crop should be harvested sometime this summer.
The new venture raises questions about how the marijuana will be farmed in the state.
Vanicek and his wife, Kelly, have been licensed caregivers in the medical-marijuana program for about 1½ years. They grow a couple of dozen marijuana plants for seven patients. The Vaniceks contacted the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition about the program after they became interested in alternative forms of medicine.
Vanicek, who earned his bachelor’s degree in nursery management from Cornell University, gave some thought to applying to the Health Department for a dispensary license.
“I had visions that it would be really cool,” he said. “But, I realized that it would be too much for me.”
Instead, Dr. Seth Bock, an herbal physician, who is Greenleaf’s chief executive officer, reached out to Vanicek. He knew about Rhode Island Nurseries and Vanicek’s interest in medical marijuana.
Vanicek joined Greenleaf’s board of directors and agreed to oversee the dispensary’s marijuana production. He has some experience growing cannabis for his patients in the caregiving program, but it’s different from producing rows of shrubs for the family business.
“I wouldn’t call it easy,” he said. “It’s a learned skill, especially when you are growing medicinal marijuana.”
Vanicek said that he is in the process of collecting clones or cuttings from his own marijuana plants or from other caregivers he has met in the state program. Those plant parts are then placed in small pots of water where they develop root systems. Once the roots are strong enough, the plants are transferred to larger pots with soil.
Vanicek will grow sativa, a strain of marijuana that gives users an energetic high, a sensation that is more in line for daytime use. He also will grow indica, a different strain that is used to relax a patient and cope with anxiety and stress. Both strains are commonly used to deal with physical pain.
JoAnne Lepannen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, said it’s difficult to pinpoint which variety of marijuana works for each patient. “There are so many factors we don’t understand. There are so many variables we don’t understand. It really is a process of trial and error.”
The varieties of sativa and indica will be produced at Greenleaf’s 60-by-40 foot cultivation site in an industrial park in Portsmouth. Vanicek said that he will launch the first grow with 10 different varieties of marijuana plants. Over the next few months, Greenleaf will try to attract patients to their dispensary.
Each dispensary will be allowed to grow 12 plants for each patient who registers with them. For example, if Greenleaf gets 100 patients, they will be allowed under state law to grow 1,200 plants. More patients means the dispensary can grow more plants.
Vanicek said that he still has to figure out how much electricity and water will be needed to grow the marijuana in soil and through hydroponic water systems.
In Providence, Gerald J. McGraw Jr., chairman of the Slater compassion center, has hired two young growers to cultivate his marijuana crop in a warehouse in the city’s north end. They are Stephen Doyle, 27, who earned a degree in horticulture from the University of Rhode Island, and Alex Liebster, 25. He moved to Rhode Island from Florida with his family about three years ago. They are both caregivers who grow marijuana for several patients.
The trio will work closely with Dr. Susan Audino, Slater’s director of quality assurance and quality control. She has an extensive background in chemistry and will monitor the cannabinoid content, or potency, of the marijuana.
McGraw, Doyle and Liebster are developing 25 marijuana strains — sativa, indica and hybrids — for the patients they hope to attract this spring and summer.
“The broader of a menu we have, the better we can serve our patients,” McGraw said. Like Vanicek, the Slater growers have obtained plant samples from other patients and caregivers in the state medical-marijuana program. They preserve and clone the plants they like for production.
As a rule, it takes 8 to 10 weeks to grow indica, which tend to be short, stocky plants with dark green leaves. Flowering time for sativa can take anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks.
But Liebster and Doyle said that some tropical strains are quite finicky and can take more than 20 weeks to reach harvest.
McGraw has bought 800 Botany-In-A-Box, kits from Grosca, an indoor horticultural supplier in Providence to get his cultivation center up and running as soon as possible. The boxes contain lamps, shades, ballasts and other equipment essential for growing marijuana indoors. He hopes to have about 500 patients when the Slater center opens for business in September. If so, that would allow him to grow 6,000 plants in their 15,000-square-foot warehouse.
“We are ready to pull the trigger,” Doyle said.
Summit will have the biggest grow center in the state, an 18,000-square-foot indoor hydroponic farm in Warwick. They plan to harvest their first crops in the fall, and that will be followed by a “systematic perpetual growth cycle,” producing mature marijuana plants every five to six weeks.
Greenleaf, Slater and Summit have yet to begin the process of growing marijuana, but the state’s 2,000 caregivers have been cultivating the drug for years for the licensed users they supply. Their cottage industry will continue with the introduction of dispensaries, which are intended to give medical-marijuana users an easier access to supply.
One of those caregivers, who did not want to be identified because his landlord does not know that he’s growing marijuana, lives in the West Bay with his wife and two small children. He works in a local record store and grows marijuana in the basement of his home for three patients. Two of them don’t have cars, so he delivers the marijuana to their homes in Warwick, Pawtucket and Central Falls.
The caregiver produces about 3 to 4 ounces of marijuana each month for the three patients. He said that he collects a total of about $200 to $300 from them.
“We’re not trying to make a living off of this,” he said. “This is about health and medicine.”
He knows people in the local marijuana grow community and they trade seeds or “cuttings,” clones of existing marijuana plants. He brings them home and keeps the leaves in Ziploc bags in his refrigerator.
He is also in the process of developing a new plant called, “Slater,” named after the late state Sen. Thomas C. Slater, D-Providence, who worked with Rep. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, to develop the state’s medical-marijuana program.
“I give the seeds out to people and they grow them and get back to me,” he said.
In the basement, the caregiver has several areas of operation. In one spot, he has about a half-dozen plants floating in a small aquarium. He said that young plants are left in the aquarium until they develop root systems. Once that happens, he transfers the plants to 12-ounce plastic cups filled with organic top soil.
Artificial light beams down on the plants 18 to 24 hours a day.
After several weeks, the caregiver moves the plant to another section of the basement where there are 12 plants about 2-feet high behind a black plastic curtain. There, two 600-watt high-pressure sodium lights hang directly above the plants.