‘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.

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