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Fixing the Medical Marijuana Bills

Rhode Island medical marijuana advocates are hailing new legislation that would pave the way for state-sanctioned dispensaries or "compassion centers" to finally open their doors, but they have some concerns about the bills as presently written.

Last year, amid threats of a federal crackdown, Governor Chafee blocked the dispensaries from opening. But he indicated he would support smaller scale operations that might fly under the US Attorney's radar.

The new bills aim to put just such a vision into action. But the current version of the legislation would leave it to health department officials to set the limit on how much marijuana a dispensary could grow.

I spoke with Chris Reilly, a spokesman and strategist for the proposed Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, one of three centers to get initial approval from the state. He was grateful that the legislature and governor's office are moving forward on a compromise. But he said the centers need to have some kind of certainty around the number of plants they can grow.

At issue: the viability of the centers. Only with a certain amount of product can the non-profits meet expenses and generate reasonable salaries for the proprietors.

Representative Scott Slater, a Providence Democrat behind the House version of the law, tells the Providence Journal he is considering amendments that would affix a particular number to the law. And it should be said here that another provision allowing small-time caregivers - authorized, under current law, to grow marijuana for up to five licensed medical marijuana patients - to sell any excess weed to the centers should mitigate the impacts of any limits imposed by the legislature or the health department.

The plant limit is not the only concern, though. Reilly told me that, under his reading of the legislation, health department officials would not only have the power to determine how many plants a compassion center could grow, but also to determine how much product a center could offer each patient. His concern: officials could allow centers to provide patients with less marijuana than they are allowed to grow on their own or get through a designated caregiver under current law. That would, obviously, disadvantage the compassion centers. But it would also place limits on patients who would prefer to go to the dispensaries - where they could be assured of a safe, regulated supply - than to grow marijuana on their own or go through a caregiver.

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