Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal cannabis—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for cannabis sales in 2015.


Rhode Island – R.I.’s third medical marijuana dispensary to open in Warwick on Monday

WARWICK, R.I. — Following a series of fits and starts that date to 2011, the state’s third and final dispensary, Summit Medical Compassion Center, is set to open its doors on Monday to sell medical marijuana to patients registered with the state.

The dispensary is a low-key facility in a commercial plaza at 380 Jefferson Blvd., just off Route 95 south.

The Warwick dispensary comes about a year and a half after the first two dispensaries opened, in spring 2013.

The first was the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, at 1 Corliss St., Providence. It was followed about six weeks later by Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, at 1637 West Main Rd., Portsmouth.

At Summit Medical, internal squabbling between incorporators, the board of directors and other individuals delayed its opening. It also took them time to find a home.

The projections for Summit have been scaled down considerably from where they were three years ago. Initially, the dispensary planned on having 8,000 customers within three years. Today, it is shooting for 600 patients in the first six months; 1,105 after the first year; and 1,610 after the second year.

Meanwhile, the number of patients licensed to use medical marijuana for a variety of ailments has continued to grow at a rapid pace. Figures from the state Department of Health show that there are 9,668 registered patients, up from 6,720 patients 11 months ago.

Slater has 4,781 registered patients, while Greenleaf has 1,647, state records show. Those figures are far beyond the initial projections for each dispensary.

Rhode Island is one of 23 states and the District of Columbia that allows the state-regulated sale of medical marijuana. On Tuesday, Oregon and Alaska became the third and fourth states in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana for anyone at least 21 years old. (See related story, A9.)

Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington.

In recent years, state legislators have attempted to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island, but those efforts have stalled in the General Assembly.

Terence M. Fracassa, Summit’s legal counsel, said there are seven employees at the Warwick business. He predicted that the number will jump to 25 to 29 by the end of the first year and climb to 39 employees after year two.

On Monday, Summit Medical will offer a dozen strains of medical marijuana from a sleek counter with glass cases similar to a jewelry store. Among the types of cannabis will be White Diesel, Jelly Bean, Blueberry and Stacked Kush. It will cost anywhere from $290 to the upper $300s an ounce for the marijuana, depending on the type.

Napoleon Brito, a retired Providence police officer, serves as Summit Medical’s general manager. He was asked whether it was awkward to work for a firm selling a drug that was illegal when he was on the police force.

“Times change,” he said. “It’s legal.”

The sole financier of Summit Medical is Cuttino Mobley, a former University of Rhode Island basketball star who made tens of millions of dollars playing on several teams in the NBA, including the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. He loaned Summit $3.5 million with an interest rate of 6 percent. He also has provided financing for four medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine, where he attended prep school.

The dispensary covers about 7,500 square feet in a nondescript setting that would barely draw attention from passing motorists. A couple of hundred yards away, at 66 Illinois Ave., is a 10,000-square-foot building where the marijuana will be grown.

The grow room, which has 20-foot ceilings, is undergoing extensive renovations. Brito, the general manager, predicted that it will be completed next month.

Chris Sands, quality control and business manager for Summit, said the first crop of marijuana would probably be ready in the spring. It takes about five months to harvest marijuana from seedlings. In the meantime, Summit, like Slater and Greenleaf, will buy marijuana from licensed caregivers in the state that have excess product.

Fracassa said Summit, like Slater and Greenleaf, also will sell edible marijuana products such as cookies and brownies. Eventually, he said, they hope to start delivery service to homebound residents.

Greenleaf received permission from the Health Department last week to become the first dispensary to deliver in the state.

Regulate Rhode Island to present first Cannabis Caucus

Regulate Rhode Island will present the first Cannabis Caucus on September 18 at Aurora.

Regulate Rhode Island is a statewide coalition of organizations and citizens working to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol.

The event will be an evening of music and conversation about how the coalition is moving cannabis policy reform forward in Rhode Island.

Anyone from the public, including lawmakers and other leaders in our community, who is interested in cannabis policy is encouraged to attend.

The Cannabis Caucus will be an opportunity for supporters of cannabis policy reform to come together and strengthen the bonds within our movement to end cannabis prohibition in Rhode Island.

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 12.45%

National Rank: 13th most

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (2.5 ounces or less)

RI lawmakers amend medical marijuana law

Updated: Jun 21, 2014 7:29 AM PDT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – State lawmakers have amended Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law to address public safety problems that law enforcement officials call unintended consequences of the program.

The amendments include an option for property owners not to lease to a cardholder who chooses to grow marijuana. It also calls for national criminal background checks on all applicants for a primary caregiver and imposes a mandatory revocation of a registry identification card for those convicted of a felony.

The state now also requires cooperative grow locations to adhere to municipal safety code inspections to eliminate the danger posed by grow lights that overwhelm electrical systems.

The state also has set weight, plant and seedling limits for both non-residential and residential grow cooperatives.

The legislation was introduced by state Rep. Lisa Tomasso, at the request of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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