The Summit Medical Center was approved to dispense medical marijuana by the Rhode Island Department of Health a year ago, but Governor Lincoln Chafee put the brakes on Summit and two other Rhode Island compassion centers for fear of federal government intervention.
Now, after months of uncertainty, compassion centers in Rhode Island may finally be able to open their doors thanks to a bill sponsored by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry and Rep. Scott A. Slater that would put stricter regulations on compassion centers.
David Lauterbach, president and CEO of the Kent Center for Human and Organizational Development, where the Summit Medical Center is slated to rent space, said he has not heard anything from those who represent the center since the bills were introduced earlier this month.
“Just what I’ve read in the paper,” he said.
Lauterbach said as long as the space at the Kent Center remains vacant and available, he would love to have the compassion center on the grounds.
Lauterbach hopes the new bill will ensure compassion centers will be able to operate legally and without federal interference.
“The Governor was the one who put forth the resistance,” said Lauterbach, who is sure that Chafee was instrumental in drawing up a satisfactory bill.
Now that Chafee has expressed his support for the legislation, Lauterbach thinks the path to opening dispensaries will be smoother.
“Since the Rhode Island medical marijuana law invited federal action, I have been working with advocates on a remedy,” said Chafee in a statement. “I look forward to passage of a bill that will avoid federal intervention.”
The legislation would allow the Department of Health to regulate the amount of marijuana grown and possessed by the dispensaries. Under the Summit proposal, marijuana would have been grown indoors at the Airport Office Park on Strawberry Field Road.
The bill also allows growers to sell excess amounts of marijuana that are not needed for themselves or clients to other dispensaries, as long as the total limits of marijuana are not exceeded. These points tackle issues the federal government has shown concern about, like the amount of marijuana in possession of dispensaries, the income generated, and illegal marijuana sales.
Cuttino Mobley, the former NBA star and financier of the Summit Medical Center is hopeful the new legislation will allow centers like his to open.
“In the end, the program should be about providing a safe and lawful system of patient access to quality and consistent medicine,” said Mobley in a statement. “Security and the non-profit nature of the compassion centers should be significant priorities. And, at the same time, I would think that you want to be careful not to put a state-licensed compassion center in the undesirable position of having to turn away registered patients in need.”
Although Mobley is looking to get his center open as soon as possible, he is not in favor of compromises that would entail putting a cap on the number of patients dispensaries can serve.
“I don’t think patients in need should be turned away and forced to obtain medicine in an undesirable or unsafe manner,” he said.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Health there are currently 4,442 patients in Rhode Island licensed to use medical marijuana and 2,826 caregivers, or those who can grow and distribute the drug.
Mobley said that data he has seen shows 3-percent of the population are patients enrolled in medicinal marijuana programs. If compromises needed to be reached, he said the state should consider half that number to begin with, and see how things develop.
“A public policy decision can be made in a few years if patients are being denied safe and lawful access due to caps, and once the State has had a chance to see how well the licensed compassion centers are performing,” he said.
As the bills currently stand, no caps would be placed on the number of patients served by compassion centers, and restrictions would instead be focused on the drug itself.
The bills have since been referred to the House Committee of Health, Education and Welfare and the Senate Health and Human Services. Those in favor the dispensaries hope the bills will get the ball rolling for the three approved compassion centers.
“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 in a statement. “It’s been three years now since we approved compassion centers [in the General Assembly]. That’s a long time for patients to wait for relief from pain and illness.”