It’s been nearly four months now since Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) decided to place a hold on his state’s compassion center program. Concerned that individuals involved in the compassion centers and state employees acting in compliance with the law would be targeted and prosecuted by federal officials, the governor has since refused to grant certificates of operation to the three entities previously chosen by the state health department to operate the centers. It’s time Gov. Chafee ends his hold and fully implements the compassion center program in Rhode Island.
Gov. Chafee’s initial fear that state employees would be prosecuted, or even threatened with prosecution, by the federal government for performing job duties consistent with a medical marijuana law should have been put to rest recently. In a motion-to-dismiss a suit challenging the Arizona medical marijuana program, a Department of Justice attorney argued that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s claims were frivolous, in part because she could point to no “genuine threat that any state employee will face imminent prosecution under federal law” and that she “can point to no threat of enforcement against the State’s employees.” Likewise, there have been no threats by the DOJ that Rhode Island state employees would face federal charges for performing their duties under their medical marijuana program.
Additionally, Gov. Chafee can find inspiration and assurance from the actions of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) who recently announced his intention to fully implement New Jersey’s medical marijuana law. Gov. Christie stated that, as a former U.S. Attorney, he sees no reason why his state’s medical marijuana program would invite federal interference. Rhode Island’s law is similar to New Jersey’s in that it allows for only a finite number of dispensaries to serve the patient population, making it easier for the state to adequately regulate the industry.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island lack the safe, immediate, and regulated access to their medicine that so many of their peers in other states have. When the Rhode Island General Assembly approved of compassion centers, they did so because they understood that a regulated supply system is preferable to patients accessing their medicine via the criminal market. Seemingly, Gov. Chafee understands this as well. However, his refusal to issue the operation certificates, despite the lack of an imminent threat of federal prosecution, not only hurts the patients, but also calls into question his respect for the laws passed by the legislative branch of Rhode Island.
The role of the governor is to execute the laws of a given state, not to block duly enacted legislation from being implemented. The legislature of Rhode Island overwhelmingly approved of compassion centers, as do the people of Rhode Island. Gov. Chafee recently refused to hand over a confessed murderer to the feds because, under federal law, the murderer could face the death penalty. Gov. Chafee points out that it is the public policy of his state to avoid the death penalty. I’d like to point out that a compassion center program, even though that too runs contrary to federal law, was a debated and enacted public policy decision of his state. The governor should respect his legislature, stand up for his constituents, and fully execute the laws of his state by issuing compassion center certificates of operation immediately.
-from MPP Blog