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.