By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has blinked first in his stand-down with the federal government over medical marijuana dispensaries in his state.
The governor officially rejected pleas from patients and advocates to provide safe access for seriously ill Rhode Island patients who have doctors’ authorizations to use medicinal cannabis.
“It’s a sad day for those of us from Rhode Island,” Tom Angell of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) told Toke of the Town Thursday afternoon.
Medical marijuana advocates had called upon Gov. Chafee to open the dispensaries, allowed under state law, but Chafee refused, citing the supposed threat of federal prosecution after receiving one of the recent threatening letters sent by U.S. Attorneys in several medical-marijuana states.
The state selected three shops to dispense cannabis under Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law. Chafee last spring suspended the plans to open the shops after federal prosecutors warned that dispensary personnel could face prosecution for violating federal marijuana laws.
Many seriously ill Rhode Islanders who need safe and reliable access to medical marijuana to treat chronic and terminal conditions had been anxiously waiting for the dispensaries to open, according to JoAnne Lepannen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.
Following is Governor Chafee’s Thursday, September 29 statement in its entirety.
After much internal and external discussion and research, I have decided that the State of Rhode Island cannot proceed with the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana compassion centers under current law.
This has been a difficult decision. I believe that patients with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS should have safe, reliable and well-regulated access to marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Rhode Island has a card and caregiver law currently in place for distributing medical marijuana to patients in need. I have met with and heard from advocate groups and patients that this existing system has serious flaws. In 2009, in an effort to address these flaws, the General Assembly passed a new law authorizing the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana through three state-registered and regulated compassion centers. The Governor’s constitutional duty is to implement laws passed by the General Assembly and I take that obligation very seriously.
Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s compassion center law is illegal under paramount federal law. And, while the United States Attorney in each district is given some discretion in the local enforcement of federal laws, 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. Federal injunctions, seizures, forfeitures, arrests and prosecutions will only hurt the patients and caregivers that our law was designed to protect.
I remain committed to improving the existing medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system in Rhode Island. 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. I pledge to work with advocates, patients and members of the General Assembly towards that end.
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.