Rhode Island Medical Marijuana: A Completely Different World

PROVIDENCE — Advocates of Rhode Island’s medical-marijuana program were not surprised when they learned that four U.S. Attorneys in California announced last week that they were cracking down on large commercial marijuana operations that make millions of dollars and supply the drug to hundreds of dispensaries across the state.

But, they said, it’s important to note that Rhode Island is nothing like California. The biggest difference is that the licensing of dispensaries in California is not regulated, while state law in Rhode Island permits the opening of just three dispensaries in the nation’s smallest state.

“It’s a completely different world,” said JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. “It’s apples and oranges. The face of the patients has gotten lost in California.”

The announcement in California came just days after Governor Chafee issued a statement saying that he would not grant licenses to three dispensaries that the state Health Department selected last spring to provide marijuana to approximately 4,000 patients in the Rhode Island medical-marijuana program.

The dispensaries are the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick and Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth. Chafee, bowing to a threat from Peter F. Neronha, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, said he was worried the federal authorities might raid the dispensaries and arrest anyone affiliated with their operation.

“Large commercial operations cloak their money-making activities in the guise of helping sick people when, in fact, they are helping themselves,” said Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. “Our interest is in enforcing federal criminal law, not prosecuting seriously sick people and those who are caring for them.”

Read the entire article, by Zachary Malinowski, in the Providence Journal.

Under Rhode Island law, criminal charges for marijuana possession can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the amount of marijuana possessed and a variety of other circumstances.