Late yesterday, the Rhode Island Senate adopted the House's budget bill, sending the legislation to Gov. Raimondo for her approval. Although the governor's January budget proposal included a plan to legalize marijuana for adults, the state legislature removed it and instead increased the number of licenses for medical marijuana compassion centers from three to nine. The budget also raises the annual licensing fees for these businesses to $500,000 — by far the highest in the nation.
Though the outcome is not what we hoped for, we were successful in avoiding an even worse result. After MPP and our allies called legislators' attention to it, the House amended out a budget provision that would have allowed the Department of Business Regulation to establish "criteria for eligibility or a demonstration of need" for patients and caregivers who wish to grow medical marijuana. Given the department's stated opposition to home cultivation, many patients could have lost their ability to produce their own medicine had this provision not been removed.
Looking ahead, advocates for sensible marijuana policy reform in Rhode Island are regrouping and planning for next year. With the legislative session winding down and no elections coming up, the next six months are an excellent time to contact your state senator and representative and talk with them about the need for sensible cannabis policy reform.
Though it is disappointing when progress does not come quickly, our movement is winning, and our numbers are growing. We must continue speaking out and advocating for reform. I appreciate you for sticking with us and continuing this fight.
Stay tuned for more updates soon.
This Friday, the Rhode Island House will debate H 5151 Sub A, the budget bill for the coming fiscal year. As written, Article 15 of this legislation would make two significant changes to undermine the state's medical marijuana program.
First, the House budget would require all patients who wish to grow for themselves to register as their own caregiver. Then, it empowers the Department of Business Regulation to establish criteria for caregivers, which may include "eligibility" and "a demonstration of need." Depending on how the department uses this authority, it could effectively eliminate home cultivation for all but a few patients.
Second, while the current budget proposal would increase the number of compassion centers from three to nine, it also raises the annual licensing fee for these facilities to $500,000 a year, which is 10-100 times more than what most other states require for medical marijuana business licenses. This fee will ensure that only people with deep pockets can enter the market, and the increased costs will be passed down to patients in the form of increased prices.
Limiting patients' ability to grow their own medicine while simultaneously increasing costs for patients at the compassion centers is a cruel and unnecessary way to balance the budget. Enough is enough.
Thank you for taking action!
MPP welcomed Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s August announcement that he would implement the compassion center program, but our enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that he did so on the condition that the program was initially limited to one compassion center that could grow only 150 plants. Since his announcement, the Department of Justice has released new guidance, which makes it clear that these restrictions are unnecessary. If you are a Delaware resident, please call the governor’s office and urge him to remove this limit.
The plant limit will surely result in shortages, leaving patients without access to their medicine. Even states like New Mexico, where there are 23 dispensaries, have experienced shortages. Patients in Delaware need a viable program.
The medical marijuana law already limits the number of compassion centers to three for the entire state. The Department of Justice has indicated that plant numbers and size of dispensaries will not be triggers for enforcement action and other states have proven that these tax-paying entities can be properly regulated. The cap does nothing but jeopardize patient access.
Earlier this month, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services issued proposed regulations for a single medical marijuana compassion center that could only cultivate 150 plants – far too few to meet patients’ needs. MPP submitted comments on behalf of Delaware’s patients and potential providers urging the department to revise the regulations to ensure a workable program.
The regulations unnecessarily restrict the compassion center program to a single pilot center that can possess no more than 150 plants and 1,500 ounces of medical marijuana. Gov. Jack Markell announced this approach at a time when the federal government indicated it was concerned about large-scale grows. However, since then, the Department of Justice directed federal prosecutors to stop considering “the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone” as a reason to take legal action against it.
The plant limit will result in shortages, forcing patients to go without or driving them to the criminal market. Meanwhile, a single compassion center does little to help patients who happen to live miles from it. DHSS should register three centers as called for by law.
You can read MPP's proposed revisions here.
This evening, Governor Lincoln Chafee issued a press release stating that he will not be moving forward on issuing certificates of operation to the three entities chosen by the state Department of Health to bring safe, affordable and reliable medical marijuana to Rhode Island’s most sick and suffering patients. Gov. Chafee has asked the General Assembly to work with him to create a model that does not draw the attention of the federal government.
This whole thing started over two years ago when the General Assembly passed legislation creating compassion centers in Rhode Island. Since then Maine, Vermont, Delaware, Arizona, and New Jersey have all enacted laws allowing for regulated dispensing of medical marijuana. As you may recall, after passage of these laws – or during debate of them – the DOJ through several United States Attorneys fired off scary sounding letters to state officials claiming that they’ll bust up people acting in compliance with these compassionate and popular state laws. A funny thing happened though, all of these states, with the exception of Rhode Island, have moved forward with giving patients the humane option of safe access despite the fact that the laws irk officials in DC.
And now we have the actions of one Gov. Lincoln Chafee. A man who claims to understand that patients need safe access yet steadfastly refuses to allow them that access. A man who refused to hand a confessed killer over to the feds to face the death penalty because it was against Rhode Island’s public policy while at the same time ignoring another public policy decision of the state to allow safe access to medical marijuana because the feds asked him to!
At this point, I’m not sure what to make of all this and what it means for patients in Rhode Island. I do know that it’s outrageous, disappointing and downright mean-spirited. I also know that this is sure to be the beginning of a discussion, not the end.
Today, Gov. Jack Markell signed SB 17 into law, making it legal for Delaware residents with certain serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The bill had bipartisan sponsors and support in the legislature. This makes Delaware the 16th state, along with the District of Columbia, to pass an effective medical marijuana law.
The law goes into effect on July 1 and will permit people diagnosed with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, decompensated cirrhosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), agitation of Alzheimer's disease, PTSD, intractable nausea, severe seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, wasting syndrome, and severe debilitating pain that has not responded to other treatments or for which other treatments produced serious side effects to possess up to six ounces of marijuana without fear of arrest. Qualified patients will not be able to cultivate their own medicine, but they will be able to obtain medical marijuana from state-licensed compassion centers regulated by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, which will also issue medical marijuana ID cards to patients who receive a recommendation from their doctor. Public use of marijuana and driving under the influence are prohibited.
“There are so many people in Delaware who are suffering unimaginable pain that this will help, and we want to be able to do what we can to provide much-needed relief for those citizens,” said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, who sponsored the legislation. “I am very grateful that so many of my colleagues were able to look past the myths surrounding marijuana and into the eyes and hearts of those who were crying out for our help. Needless to say, I am profoundly grateful to Gov. Markell for his support of this important legislation.”
“Today is an amazing victory for seriously ill Delaware patients, who have been waiting a very long time for the chance to use the medicine they need without fear,” said Noah Mamber, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, who lobbied and mobilized patients, professionals, and grassroots activists in support of the bill. “SB17 is the most comprehensive, tightly-written medical marijuana bill in the country, and with this vote, the Delaware Legislature proved that compassion is not a red or a blue issue. It’s a human issue.”
Chris McNeely, a Dagsboro National Guard veteran and chronic pain patient with severe wasting syndrome, said, “Until this law was passed, I was afraid to use medical marijuana, even though it helped me in the past, because if I was arrested and put in jail, they could not properly care for me, and I could actually die. I am so happy I will be able to get legal relief soon.”
With this victory, we are well on our way to accomplishing MPP's goal of 27 medical marijuana states by 2014. Keep up the good work, everybody!
Medical marijuana patients in the Aloha State could be looking at major improvements to their ability to access their medicine. Last week, two proposals were introduced in the state legislature to augment the 10-year-old law.
Sen. Will Espero proposed a bill that would increase the number of plants a patient can personally grow from four to 10. Patients would also be able to designate a caregiver to grow the same amount of plants instead, and each caregiver would be able to take on up to four patients. This bill would also keep patients' names and grow site locations private, and would allow a person with a qualifying condition to get a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor other than his or her primary care physician.
A bill that would set up state-licenced compassion centers was also introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English. While the licensing fees and taxes for these businesses would be large, this proposal would be the first of its kind to allow dispensaries to provide marijuana to non-Hawaii residents who are legal medical marijuana patients in their home states.
Of course, the police are fighting this tooth and nail, and are trotting out the same old predictable arguments. According to Sen. Espero, Hawaii lawmakers aren't buying it anymore. And neither is the new governor.
In an unexpected slap in the face to local medical marijuana patients, last week the Rhode Island Health Department announced that it had rejected all 15 applicants to open the state’s first medical marijuana compassion center. Officials were originally supposed to reward the first licenses in June, but postponed after a series of delays. Rhode Island’s law calls for at least one, and up to three compassion centers to provide patients with safe access to their medicine.
So why weren’t any applications accepted? Well, because some had too many pages.
Nine applications fell short of the minimum score in the review process and the rest were disqualified for failing to comply with rules for applying.
The health department received eight formal letters of concern. Some letters questioned why an application exceeded the allowable page limit. Others raised issues about zoning requirements, site control, financing issues and residency requirements.
Locals are justifiably outraged, and organized a rally outside the Health Department yesterday to protest the decision.
“This is just horrible,” JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, told the Providence Journal. “This is such a disappointment that I cannot even tell you. I feel like the patients’ welfare is being lost in a bureaucratic haze.”
Last week the Rhode Island state legislature approved a critical piece of legislation designed to protect the confidentiality of physicians who recommend medical marijuana to patients. The bill was introduced after the names of 335 physicians had been leaked to the Providence Journal by a department of health staffer, and several doctors whose identities were disclosed testified that they were no longer comfortable recommending medical marijuana to patients, even when it might be the best course of treatment.
Passage of the bill – which is set to become law – marks the fourth time that Rhode Island has passed positive medical marijuana legislation. In fact, tomorrow, the state will take another critical step in expanding its medical marijuana law further when it holds a public hearing for applicants to open the state’s first nonprofit compassion centers, which will provide qualified patients with safe access to their medicine. Rhode Island has approved opening up to three such centers, and the first licenses are expected to be issued in about a month.
Could the tiny island of Guam become the first U.S. territory to pass a medical marijuana law?
Yesterday, a bill was introduced into Guam’s 15-member legislature that would give qualified patients legal access to medical marijuana and create a system of “compassionate health care centers” to grow and dispense it.
Guam now joins more than a dozen U.S. states that have considered or are considering medical marijuana legislation this year.
It’s still unclear what chances the Guam bill has of passing, but if it were to become law, medical marijuana would then be legal in 14 U.S. states, one federal district (Washington, D.C.) and one U.S. territory.