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Rhode Island Governor Nixes Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #703)
Drug War Issues

Bowing to pressure from Washington, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) announced last Thursday that he will not allow the state to move forward with a plan to open three long-delayed medical marijuana dispensaries. That leaves thousands of Rhode Island patients to their own devices when it comes to procuring their medicine.

"After much internal and external discussion and research, I have decided that the State of Rhode Island cannot proceed with the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana compassion centers under current law,'' Chafee said in a statement.

The announcement came two days after the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition announced its plans to sue the governor and force him to lift his hold on the compassion centers.

Rhode Island became a medical marijuana state in 2006, when the legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act. But that law did not allow for dispensaries, and in 2009, the legislature passed a law authorizing the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana through three state-registered and -regulated dispensaries.

Despite growing pressure from patients and doctors, movement toward actually implementing the dispensary system was achingly slow. After two years of reviews and public hearings, the state announced in March that it had selected three dispensaries to serve Rhode Island's nearly 4,000 registered patients. But the next month, US Attorney Peter Neronha sent Chafee a letter warning that people involved in large-scale drug production operations could face civil and criminal prosecution, prompting Chafee to block the issuing of licenses pending clarification from Neronha and the US Department of Justice.

Now, Chafee has decided that the federal threats are valid.

"Unfortunately, Rhode Island's compassion center law is illegal under paramount federal law," he said in the statement. "And, while the United States Attorney in each district is given some discretion in the local enforcement of federal laws, I have received communications from both the United States Department of Justice and from the United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island that large scale commercial operations such as Rhode Island's compassion centers will be potential targets of 'vigorous' criminal and civil enforcement efforts by the federal government. I cannot implement a state marijuana cultivation and distribution system which is illegal under federal law and which will become a target of federal law enforcement efforts. Federal injunctions, seizures, forfeitures, arrests and prosecutions will only hurt the patients and caregivers that our law was designed to protect."

Chafee added that he remains "committed to improving the existing medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system in Rhode Island" and that he hoped the legislature would address flaws in the system in the upcoming session. "I pledge to work with advocates, patients and members of the General Assembly towards that end."

No state or national groups had officially reacted to Chafee's move by the time this story went to press, but in an email announcing the bad news, the Marijuana Policy Project urged supporters to tell Chafee to "reverse course" and let the program go ahead. Federal threats hadn't stopped other states, the group noted.

"It's been over two years since the General Assembly passed legislation creating compassion centers in Rhode Island," MPP wrote. "In that time, Maine, Vermont, Delaware, Arizona, and New Jersey have all enacted laws allowing for regulated dispensing of medical marijuana. All of these states, with the exception of Arizona, are moving forward with giving patients the humane option of safe access, despite the fact that the laws irk officials in DC."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Oli (not verified)

This Chafee moron is being recalled. What's it gonna take for you guys to come onboard and send a message that this behavior won't be tolerated anymore?

If this were to happen, you'd put the rest of the governors on notice that they could be next if they were to bow to pressure from the Feds. Drug policy activists, please make an example out of this guy and the tide will turn!

Sat, 10/01/2011 - 9:42am Permalink
drmaddogs (not verified)

In reply to by Oli (not verified)

The Fed.. will always have a bigger hammer, than the State. Not because it weighs more,or is welded better or even more sneaky. The Hammer will always be bigger because they have no compunction against using the Hammer.


While the State will always fear the Fed hammer, and give up before it's used.

Thu, 10/06/2011 - 11:59am Permalink
Jeff Brown (not verified)

Part of the suit against the governor should be to force him to sue the feds on behalf of the state  The State of Rhode Island has determined that marijuana has medical use. Therefor marijuana has medical use in the United States and cannot remain in federal schedule I. It is time for the state governments to stand up for their patients and caregivers. Once marijuana is rescheduled it should change things for the better.

Thu, 10/06/2011 - 12:34pm Permalink

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