The Rhode Island Senate voted in approval of new legislation developed to address concerns about Rhode Island’s medical marijuana compassion centers on Wednesday.
The legislation (2012-S 2555A), sponsored by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry (D-Dist. 3, Providence), is a compromise developed through talks between the sponsors, legislative leaders and Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee. The bill will now be forwarded to the House, where Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) is sponsoring similar legislation (2012-H 7888).
The House bill was scheduled for a hearing before the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.
“What’s important to us is getting the licensing process back on track so the facilities can open and safely get some relief to suffering people. Every day these centers aren’t open is another day that many sick and dying Rhode Islanders and their families or caregivers are forced to turn to unsafe, illegal means to get their medicine,” said Senator Perry.
In March, legislative leaders announced they had reached a deal with Gov. Lincoln Chafee that would allow the state's first medical marijuana centers to open their doors, including one in Portsmouth.
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 , after U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha issued a letter saying he did not support the centers.
Neronha also issued a statement on Wednesday, stating the department's opinion has not changed.
"As has been stated previously, and as I reiterated to the governor and legislative leaders during a recent meeting, the department has given guidance to U.S. attorneys that prosecuting genuinely ill persons who use marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with state laws would not be an effective use of limited federal resources," Neronha wrote.
"At the same time, the department’s guidance has also made clear that combating large-scale commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana remains a priority. Anyone engaging in such activities is subject to a variety of potential federal criminal and civil remedies, including forfeiture of the real estate where such centers or associated activities are located."
The new legislation caps the amount of marijuana that a compassion center may grow and possess.
It also allows registered patients or caregivers who grow up to their allotted maximums, but do not use 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.
The bill was amended in committee to include several security measures, including a requirement for criminal background checks for those running or employed by compassion centers, with notification by the State Police to the Department of Health if disqualifying offenses prohibit a person’s involvement with the compassion center.
Also added were provisions allowing the State Police to visit the compassion centers to make recommendations about security of the premises and personnel, and adding the State Police to the committee that will oversee the compassion center law. The bill also makes state employees exempt from state penalties when implementing this law.
“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 when the bill was introduced earlier this year.