Rhode Island: Governor Pulls Plug On State’s Long Awaited Marijuana Dispensing Program

Providence, RI: Governor Lincoln Chafee has announced that he is disbanding a program initially approved by lawmakers in 2009 that sought to oversee the state-licensed production and distribution of cannabis to authorized patients.

Chafee had temporarily suspended the program in May after U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha threatened federal prosecution against those involved with the cultivation or distribution of cannabis. Representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Health had previously announced the selection of three applicants to operate the state’s first-ever, government licensed medical cannabis dispensaries, which were scheduled to open this past June.

Stated Gov. Chafee: “I have decided that the State of Rhode Island cannot proceed with the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana compassion centers under current law. … I have received communications from both the United States Department of Justice and from the United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island that large scale commercial operations such as Rhode Island’s compassion centers will be potential targets of ‘vigorous’ criminal and civil enforcement efforts by the federal government. I cannot implement a state marijuana cultivation and distribution system which is illegal under federal law and which will become a target of federal law enforcement efforts.”

Chafee added: “I am hopeful that the General Assembly will introduce new legislation in the upcoming session that will address the flaws in, and indeed make improvement to, the existing medical marijuana card and caregiver system while not triggering federal enforcement actions.”

Rhode Island lawmakers initially enacted legislation in 2007 allowing for the cultivation and use of cannabis by qualified patients. In 2009, lawmakers voted 102 to 3 to expand the law to allow for a limited number of state-licensed medical cannabis distribution centers.

Similar state-regulated medical marijuana production and distribution facilities are operational in Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico.

Over 3,500 Rhode Islanders are authorized under state law to use cannabis.

For more information, please visit http://ripatients.org/ or contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org.