The East Greenwich Town Council is considering implementing a moratorium on medical marijuana compassion centers at a meeting tonight to which Steve Brown, executive director of the RI ACLU, said “I do not believe municipalities have the authority to essentially halt the implementation of the law at their borders.”
The formal Town Council agenda is broadly worded. It says under new business, “A moratorium on marijuana compassion centers, hookah bars and the growth, sale or distribution of marijuana.” But Council President Michael Isaacs said in an interview that a moratorium is only intended to apply to medical marijuana dispensaries, where patients can legally obtain medical marijuana.
“It was supposed to be narrowly focused,” Isaacs said, noting he hasn’t yet seen the language – but he said he expects the council will vote on it tonight. The Council decided to consider this because of “articles in law review journals about potential zoning conflicts,” he said. “Zoning has to do with the appropriateness of an activity in the community or in a particular part of a community.”
Brown, longtime director of the RI ACLU, said the town can’t decide which state laws it wants to follow. “State law establishes a very detailed scheme for the medical marijuana program and compassion centers,” he said. “It completely undermines state policy as reflected in the Medical Marijuana Act.”
Brown said there exists procedures for municipalities to weigh in if a compassion center applies to locate there, which none have done, according to the state Department of Health.
“Regarding compassion centers,” Brown said, “it is important to note that exclusive jurisdiction is vested in the Department of Health to issue compassion center permits. One of the criteria to be used by the Department is to consider is “the interests of the city or town where the dispensary would be located.” Other than providing that input, a municipality should not be able to then undermine the detailed regulatory analysis the Department has undertaken, in accordance with the law, in making its decision as to whom — and where — to grant a compassion center license.”
Brown said there are different issues if the Council were to try to ban individual care providers who grow medical marijuana.
“The problem is just as acute for medical marijuana users,” Brown said, “They have the right under state law to cultivate medical marijuana for their own use. A municipal attempt to bar medical marijuana users from growing the medicine is a direct attack on the right the Medical Marijuana Act gives them and cannot be lawfully imposed. As a practical matter, a moratorium would have the ironic effect of actually encouraging legitimate medical marijuana users to obtain their marijuana illegally.”
Jared Moffat, director of Regulate RI, a group pushing to tax and regulate marijuana in Rhode Island, echoed Brown’s concerns.
“Banning state-sanctioned compassion centers and licensed caregivers from cultivating marijuana will only reduce access to an important medicine for chronically ill patients and might force more patients to turn to the illicit market,” he said. “Outright prohibition is the worst possible policy for marijuana, and it is disappointing to see East Greenwich potentially going down that road.”