A quote from Dr. Seth Bock was added to this post on Friday at 3:10 p.m.
Legislative leaders have reached an agreement with Gov. Lincoln Chafee that they say will allow the state's first medical marijuana centers to open their doors, including one in Portsmouth.
Last spring, in Portsmouth was one of three medical marijuana centers, or compassion centers, in Rhode Island approved for licenses by the Department of Health.
But the process got put on hold by Gov. Chafee in May, after U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha issued a letter saying he did not support the centers.
A new deal has been proposed and involves new legislation, which will prevent "raids" of these centers by federal agents, according to a State House press release Thursday.
Sen. Rhoda E. Perry and Rep. Scott A. Slater will sponsor legislation that will put stricter limits on compassion centers, designed to prevent them from being shut down or raided by federal agents. The governor is said to support this new legislation.
“This is a good compromise that strengthens the safety of compassion centers," said Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) Thursday. "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."
His late father, Rep. Thomas D. Slater, alongside Senator Perry, sponsored both the law establishing compassing centers and Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law. The medical marijuana law was named after him and Senator Perry’s late nephew, Thomas Hawkins.
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.
"We are very excited that the governor and the General Assembly have revived the compassion center program," said Bock. "There is a long way to go before this bill is passed, but this is certainly a step in the right direction."
The three centers, including the one in Portsmouth, that were already approved by the Department of Health, will be able to operate under the new limits.
“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 (D-Dist. 3,Providence).
Perry introduced the legislation (2012-S 2555) in the Senate yesterday with 13 cosponsors. Rep. Slater expects to submit his bill today, with 44 cosponsors.
“Since the Rhode Island medical marijuana law invited federal action, I have been working with advocates on a remedy. 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,” said Governor Chafee.