It’s been one agonizing year for Middletown acupuncturist Seth Bock, leader of one of the three groups chosen to open Rhode Island’s first medical-marijuana dispensaries.
A month after they were selected over 18 other applicants, Bock and the other prospective compassion-center providers were warned by the U.S. Attorney’s office that Rhode Island’s medical-marijuana law did not protect them from federal prosecution. Last May, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee put the brakes on licensing the compassion centers, casting them into legal and operational limbo, based on concerns that the dispensaries would be raided and their ailing patients arrested by federal agents.
“It has been hard to justify doing a lot given the uncertainty,” Bock said last month while waiting for a legislative fix to the deadlock over compassion centers. “So we put everything on hold and are ready to pick up the pieces if we hear good news.”
That news came March 1 when Chafee endorsed bills that would make a series of changes to Rhode Island’s medical-marijuana law intended to protect the compassion centers from federal prosecution and pave the way for them to be licensed.
But the changes laid out in the proposed bills suggest selling medical marijuana might not be as lucrative as some imagined, and the federal government feared, when Rhode Island’s medical-marijuana law was first passed.
One of the biggest changes in the bill would subject the three dispensaries to limits set by the R.I. Department of Health on how much marijuana they can grow, hold and sell.
What those limits will be is unclear, as the bill does not specify and the health department did not have any size limits ready to go when Chafee said he would support it.
Whatever the limits are, they will likely make it difficult for compassion centers to grow into the lucrative and powerful “large-scale, privately operated, industrial marijuana-cultivation centers,” that U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said federal authorities were concerned about in a June memo.
The memo was designed to refute the idea, which grew out of a 2009 brief from U.S. Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden, that federal authorities will not prosecute medical-marijuana distributors in states that have passed laws allowing it.
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