Monday, August 24, 2009

Rhode Island Marijuana News

Hearing set on `compassion centers'

By Cynthia Needham

Journal State House Bureau

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Health is moving forward
with plans to create the state's first medical marijuana clinic
where patients who use the drug for medicinal purposes can legally
purchase it.

Officials have released a draft version of the regulations regarding
operation of such clinics and have scheduled "an informal community
review meeting" Tuesday, inviting the public to share its thoughts.

In June, lawmakers closed a loophole in the state's medical
marijuana law, approving the creation of up to three so-called
"compassion centers" where they say authorized patients will be
able to safely buy affordable marijuana.

With passage of that law, Rhode Island became the third state to allow
the sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

New Mexico earlier this year passed a statute licensing nonprofit
producers of medical marijuana. California, meanwhile, allows marijuana
clinics to operate, but plays no role in regulating the centers.

Since Rhode Island changed its law, some have questioned the particulars
of how such centers will function, and what role the Health Department
will play in regulating them.

The new regulations provide some answers on topics from security and
licensing, to personnel requirements and dispensing rules.

Compassion centers are to be operated as independent nonprofit entities
overseen by boards or principal officers, to be regulated by the Health
Department, much like a hospital or a nursing home. The state will not
play a role in the day-to-day operations, but it will check to ensure
that protocol is followed.

Centers must have "a fully operational security alarm system"
with marijuana to be stored in locked areas within the clinics,
according to the regulations. If clinics elect to grow marijuana at a
second site, that location too must be equipped with proper security.

Staff and board members may not have felony drug convictions and must
undergo background checks to be conducted by the attorney general's
office. They must also participate in training sessions at the facility.

But the rules remain silent on many specifics. For example, who is
expected to train employees, or what constitutes an adequate security

Health Director David Gifford said many of those details can only be
worked out once the regulations are in place and a group is selected to
run the first center.

Gifford cautioned that while health officials will give the public a
chance to ask questions and learn more about the centers at
Tuesday's meeting, they don't have the power to substantively
change the statute. Only the General Assembly can do that through a
formal vote. The draft regulations are simply a reflection of what the
legislature required.

"I am already guessing people pro and con will ask us to change the
language here, but we don't have the authority to do that,"
Gifford said.

Stephen Hogan, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy
Coalition, estimates that about 30 individuals have thus far signaled an
interest in applying to open the first center. That group recently held
an information session to help those interested learn more about the
center. But it says it will not endorse any one applicant.

Applications will not be distributed until the regulations are signed
and in place.

Asked how he would describe an ideal applicant for the state's first
compassion center, Gifford hesitated.

"We'll have to weigh the whole picture," he said. "To a
degree it will end up being subjective, but we will try to make it as
fair and transparent as possible."

Hogan said he hopes the first center will open as early as May, at which
point the application process will begin anew for groups interested in
operating the second center.

Gifford declined to commit to a specific time frame, given that the
state has never before embarked on such a process, but he did not reject
Hogan's estimate.

Tuesday's meeting will be at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the Cannon
Building, 3 Capitol Hill, on the lower level.

cneedham@projo. com

http://www.projo. com/news/ content/MARIJUAN A_MEETING_ 08-24-09_ BPFFO9U_v16\

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