‘Utter Chaos’ on Compassion Centers Less Chaotic Than It Appears

Gov. Lincoln Chafee

Rolling Stone recently published a story about President Barack Obama’s policy about face on medical cannabis which has inaugurated Bush-style crackdowns and raids. In it, Rhode Island’s own Governor Chafee is quoted as calling the results of the shift “utter chaos.”  Ted Nesi published a quick overview of the issue on his blog, Nesi’s Notes along with many links on the issue. Mr. Chafee has signed a joint petition along with fellow governor Christine Gregoire of Washington asking the DEA to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule II drug; one that has a legitimate medical use. That petition was delivered in November, and though it meets federal requirements, no one expects the Federal Government to get around to changing the rules any time soon.

It’s surprising to see the Governor coming out so forcefully against federal policy in the pages of Rolling Stone, since here in Rhode Island he’s faced local opposition after blocking the dispensaries/compassion centers from going ahead. Christine Hunsinger, the Governor’s press secretary said that the Governor was pursuing the “dual paths” of pushing for federal reclassification while also looking to tweak state law as to prevent incurring federal wrath. There’s some fear on the part of the State that larger amounts of cannabis and money could trigger a raid, one that would potentially involve state employees. An April 2011 letter from United States Attorney Peter Neronha to the Governor never specifically mentions state employees, but does say that “others who knowingly facilitate [dispensaries]… should also know that their conduct violates federal law.”

JoAnne Leppanen, the executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), doesn’t think that fear is legitimate. Though a letter similar to Mr. Neronha’s was delivered to Governor Gregoire in Washington which did threaten state employees with felony charges, Ms. Leppanen says this may have something to do with the nuances of Washington law. Ms. Leppanen says an attempt by the Governor of Arizona to not follow that state’s law regarding medical cannabis on the grounds of protecting state employees was tossed out by federal courts, and state courts forced compliance.

Regardless, Ms. Leppanen says RIPAC has no immediate plans to sue the state. Indeed, she says the patients, many of whom have turned to cannabis as a remedy of last resort, have no desire to “be at odds” with Governor Chafee. She says that RIPAC supports the tweaks, and believes that the law’s driving force, state Senator Rhoda Perry (D – Providence) is receptive to making changes intended to keep the federal government away from any particular compassion center. Ms. Hunsinger says that the Governor understands the importance the dispensaries. Both Ms. Hunsinger and Ms. Leppanen aren’t optimistic that the federal government will reclassify cannabis any time soon.

There seems to be agreement between both sides as how to proceed. As Ms. Leppanen says, “everyone wants to see these open. Let’s just do it.”

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A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.

One response to “‘Utter Chaos’ on Compassion Centers Less Chaotic Than It Appears”

  1. RXTHC

    Chaffee is being a realist. If the DOJ says that the “Compassion Centers” would become targets for them, the prudent action would seem to be exactly the route the Governor has chosen.  The “infamous” memo regarding the lack of enforcement by the DEA, refers solely to “patients” and their “care-givers” in the medical marijuana states. It (the memo) goes on to say that producers and suppliers  could still remain on the list for use of DOJ resources as they may be considered DTO’s ( drug trafficking organizations).  Please read 
       The “Compassion Center” amendment allows for the type of grandiose “tens of thousands plant facilities” which the memo deems unacceptable.  Compassion Centers would be eligible to possess 24 plants for each patient enrolled with them. In other words, with 400 patients a center could have 10,000 plants. Also, the amendment would allow patients to obtain enough medicine to equal 1 ounce per each 3 day period as well as any that a patient may continue to produce on their own.  Let’s do the math.  A patient could join 2 of the 3 centers and obtain 2.5 ounces every 15 days, or 60 ounces a year from both or 120 ounces over 365 days or an ounce every 3 days.  As both a patient and a care-giver I feel that these amounts are excessive, and open the door for misdirection of medicine.
      Don’t be so quick to place blame on the Governor but rather the members of the Legislature that bought into this solution to patient access.  Every Representative and Senator in office at the time of the ‘Compassion Center” Bill’s passage received documents pointing out the very issues which have now caused the patients in Rhode Island to continue without safe access, short of self production or by having a care-giver to do it. In effect, nothing has changed since 2006.
      With other, alternate suggestions raised by Rhode Islanders, it is truly a shame that we were given a “push the envelope” law from an outside source, whose main agenda, doesn’t include Rhode Island’s patient population but rather wholesale legalization. The two matters belong in separate arenas.  With it having been obvious to some that this law was doomed upon passage, the patient community was grossly misled to have thrown their support behind it.
     Bear in mind this is one patient’s opinion. Let’s all hope and pray that we get a workable plan during the next Legislative session.   For starters, increasing the number of centers would decrease the plant counts possible, a step in the right direction.

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