Rhode Island Releases Proposed Marijuana Dispensary Rules

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Graphic: thefreshscent.com

​Proposed regulations for the operation of compassion centers to dispense medical marijuana have been issued by Rhode Island health regulators, but it could still be up to a year before the first center opens, reports Mike Stanton of The Providence Journal.

“What’s a reasonable timeline? You could be talking about up to a year, or maybe it will take less time,” said Health Department spokesman Robert Vanderslice.

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​The Rhode Island Department of Health issued 22 pages of proposed rules for licensing and operating up to three dispensaries in the state. The rules cover everything from the amount of cannabis being dispensed, to the background of dispensary employees, to the security systems in place to guard the compassion centers.
The proposed regulations will be the subject of a formal public hearing on Feb. 2. The department issued the proposed rules in response to legislation passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly last spring.
If Health Director David R. Gifford decides no revisions are necessary after the public hearing, it’ll take about 45 days for the rules to become formally enacted. The licensing process then allows for a 60-day application period for prospective dispensary operators. Further public hearings might be held at that point, before Gifford makes the final decision.
Rhode Island, along with New Mexico and Maine, is one of only three states that provide for the sale of medical marijuana by state-licensed dispensaries. California and Colorado also have dispensaries, but as yet no state licensing system in in place in those states.
The 2007 medical marijuana law, passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly over Governor Carcieri’s veto, didn’t define how patients and their caregivers could legally obtain cannabis.

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The late Rep. Thomas C. Slater, whose impassioned speech helped result in the passage of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law

​But in the spring of 2009, the Assembly, inspired by a speech from the bill’s original sponsor, Providence Rep. Thomas C. Slater (himself a cancer patient, since deceased), created the compassion centers.
For the second time, the Assembly passed the law over pot-hating Gov. Carcieri’s veto. Predictably, marijuana-phobic law enforcement officials claimed medical marijuana usage “would open the door to criminals,” The Providence Journal reports.
Stephen Hogan, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, said there are too many variables to predict when the first dispensary might open. “We understand why it has taken a bit longer,” he said. Hogan said he’d heard from many individuals who would be interested in running compassion centers in the state.
Rhode Island has issued medical marijuana licenses to about 900 patients and 725 caregivers since the original law become permanent in 2007. Those with the licenses can legally grow and distribute cannabis, but compassion centers will be able to handle more patients and will be less vulnerable to criminals, according to patient advocates.
According to Hogan, with the law allowing three dispensaries, ideally one would be in the Providence area, with the other two in northern and southern Rhode Island. The proposed Health Department rules don’t specify geographic areas.
Rhode Island’s law requires that the dispensaries be operated as non-profit businesses.
While Rhode Island law limits qualified patients to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces, dispensaries would be allowed to keep greater amounts, based on the number of patients cared for. The proposed rules state that even dispensaries may not distribute more than 2.5 ounces to any given patient during a 15-day period.
The rules don’t address marijuana prices, but do specify that licensed caregivers are allowed to be reimbursed for costs associated with helping patients. “We don’t control prices,” Vanderslice said. “The caregivers can charge enough to cover expenses, but we don’t get into specific prices.”
Individuals with felony drug convictions won’t be able to work at dispensaries unless the Health Department waives that restriction on a case-by-case basis. Convictions related to the medical use of marijuana will not apply, however.
Schools, employers and landlords would not be able to penalize medical marijuana patients or providers under the proposed rules.
The dispensaries, which would not be allowed to be within 500 feet of schools, would be required to maintain operational alarm systems and “good exterior lighting.”
The compassion centers would also be required to maintain an alcohol- and drug-free workplace policy.
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