A large crowd turned out for the Rhode Island Department of Health’s hearing Monday morning to gauge what the public has to say about the 18 applications for licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries, or compassion centers as they are known in the state.
Fung, who serves as public safety director for Cranston, said that Congress still characterizes marijuana as “a dangerous drug,” and he doesn’t want a compassion center in his city.
Three of the 18 applicants have proposed dispensaries or grow sites in Cranston.
Most of the applicants, all of whom must be organized as nonprofit organizations, have plans to open dispensaries in the Providence metropolitan area, but there are also proposals to establish them in North Kingstown and Portsmouth, reports W. Zachary Malinowski of The Providence Journal
The Department of Health had stunned the medical marijuana community back in October 2010 when it announced, months after receiving 15 applications, that none of the applicants then seeking to open dispensaries were qualified. Several of the applicants exceeded the 25-page limit for the application.
This time around, the health department did not limit the number of pages in the application. Applicants had to answer 18 questions in their submission, such as giving details of business plans, source of equity and three-year projections in revenue. Applicants also had to list principals and directors in their organizations and information about where they will grow and sell the marijuana.
The applications ranged from 423 pages, submitted by Hope Apothecary Inc. of Warwick, to just eight pages from The Cassandrew Group, d/b/a The Roger Williams Medical Marijuana Compassion Center, in Cranston.
Some of the applicants plan to grow cannabis in greenhouses in rural parts of the state, such as Exeter and Burrillville. Others plan complex heating and aeration systems in modified warehouses to cultivate marijuana.
Sales projections range from $1.2 million in annual sales for The Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, in Portsmouth, to $25 million for the Summit Medical Compassion Center, in Warwick. The projections are based on the anticipated growth over the next three years in the number of people approved by the health department to use cannabis medicinally.
Since the start of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program in 2006, the number of licensed patients has grown from a few hundred to more than 3,000.
The prospective dispensaries said they plan to hire new employees in high-paying jobs. The Hope Apothecary group, for example, said it would have a payroll of 29 within three years, including 12 positions that pay between $90,000 and $150,000 annually for such jobs as top administrators, horticulturists and security experts.
Patients in the state’s medical marijuana program have expressed concerns about the cost of cannabis and its availability to the unemployed, poor and others on fixed incomes. The street price for an ounce of marijuana in Rhode Island is about $400, according to the police.
The dispensaries, according to their applications, plan to charge from $200 to more than $500 an ounce. The patients are allowed to buy up to five ounces a month under the Rhode Island program.
Some of the prospective dispensaries said they planned on discount plans for customers. The Summit Medical Compassion Center group’s proposal for a store in Warwick included a detailed plan under which, twice a month, patients on military, federal or state disability would get marijuana for 50 percent off the counter price. Patients suffering from cancer or AIDS would get the same deal.
Summit would also offer free marijuana and services to patients who have less than six months to live, according to their application.
Another applicant, MariMed Caregivers of Rhode Island, which proposes to open a store in Pawtucket, said that military veterans will be offered marijuana products and related services “free of charge or at considerable discounts.”
The proposed Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence said it planned to sell marijuana for $200 to $300 an ounce. “Any surplus revenue created due to this pricing approach will be used to support patient services, including free and low cost medicine as needed,” the proposal said.
Health officials estimated that at least 30 percent of medical marijuana patients are low-income and receive Social Security or qualify for Medicaid. Some medical marijuana advocates believe that figure is actually upwards of 50 percent.
Many of the applicants said they would provide acupuncture or yoga classes, and they will have physicians on duty who can administer epidurals to deal with problems such as back pain. They also plan to sell baked goods, such as cookies, chocolate bars and lollipops containing cannabis.
While aware of the problems many patients have had with caregivers — she has fielded scores of complaints about licensed caregivers who jack up their prices or simply drop customers — Lepannen stressed that the vast majority of Rhode Island’s 1,949 caregivers are quietly doing a good job.
Lepannen noted that many caregivers provide marijuana to seriously ill patients for free. She also said that many patients who grow their own marijuana enjoy the cultivation process and find it therapeutic.
“If someone can grow their own marijuana at minimal cost, why would you take that away from them?” she said.
Lepannen said that the compassion centers will give patients a safe outlet to buy high quality marijuana. She said that caregivers could take extended vacations, or that compassion centers would provide a reliable alternative if, for instance, spider mites destroyed a caregiver’s marijuana crop.