Marijuana dispensaries to begin selling Jan. 1
The three-year wait for marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island is about to end. The state Health Department is currently in the final stages of revising the original legislation approving medical marijuana dispensaries, meaning that the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence; Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick and Greenleaf Compassionate Care in Portsmouth can soon submit their licensing applications. Spokesmen for Greenleaf and Slater expect to begin selling marijuana by Jan. 1.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed state-licensed marijuana dispensaries into law in May; three years after Rhode Island originally authorized dispensaries in 2009. The three-year delay was primarily the result that the original legislation contained loopholes that may have invited unwanted federal involvement.
Under the revised legislation, the dispensaries will now be able to grow up to 99 mature marijuana plants and stock a maximum of 1,500 ounces of marijuana at any given time. There are presently about 4,500 patients enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program.
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.
Medical Marijuana Vote Set for Today
Dan McGowan, GoLocalProv News Editor
Members of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare today are expected to vote on legislation that would allow medical marijuana compassion centers to open Rhode Island.
The House bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) and the Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Dist. 3, Providence). The bills amend “The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act.”
The General Assembly first approved legislation to create compassion centers in 2009, but Governor Chafee ordered a temporary halt to the licensing process last year when the federal government suggested it might begin targeting the centers or patients using their services.
But as a result of an agreement reached earlier this year between legislative leaders and the governor, Slater and Perry were given the green light to continue to move compassion centers forward. The bill would clear the way to allow three compassion centers to open while protecting them from being shut down or raided by federal agents.
Chafee Will Sign Bill
Governor Chafee, who faced criticism from those in the medical marijuana community for deferring to the federal government, has indicated he will sign Slater and Perry's legislation into law if it is approved by the General Assembly.
“Since the Rhode Island medical marijuana law invited federal action, I have been working with advocates on a remedy,” Chafee said earlier this year. “I applaud Senator Perry and Representative Slater for their work and I look forward to passage of a bill that will avoid federal intervention and bring needed medicinal relief to those who stand to benefit.”
Bill Regulates Limits on Growing Amount
The legislation will allow the Department of Health to regulate limits on the amount of marijuana that a compassion center may grow and possess, since the magnitude of the marijuana and the resulting income it generates for privately run compassion centers appears to be a key element of concern for federal officials. It also allows registered patients or caregivers who grow up to their allotted maximums, but do not need the entire amount for themselves or their patients, to sell the excess to a compassion center, as long as the limits of the grower and the purchasing center are not exceeded. That provision is designed to address concerns about the illegal sale of excess marijuana.
“This is a good compromise that strengthens the safety of compassion centers," Slater said earlier this year "We just want patients to get some relief, soon. While we believe the existing law is good, this change will make it better by making our centers less of an issue for the federal government. Nobody in Rhode Island would want to see patients get caught up in some federal raid or lose access to their medicine, and if these changes further minimize that issue, they are positive for patients."
The three centers that were already approved by the Department of Health after a public bidding process to be licensed will be able to operate under the new limits, so it is expected the centers will be able to open quickly upon passage and enactment of the legislation.
“Our main concern is getting compassion centers up and running for the many suffering patients who still have no legal way to obtain their prescription medicine,” said Senator Perry. “It’s been three years now since we approved compassion centers. That’s a long time for patients to wait for relief from pain and illness. We already have three legitimate organizations that have been approved and are ready and willing to serve Rhode Island’s patients and the quicker we move on these amendments, the less time Rhode Island’s sick and dying will spend suffering."
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.
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.