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Compassion Center Bids Rejected By Health Panel

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
PROVIDENCE — In a surprise move, the state Health Department on Friday announced that none of the 15 applicants seeking to open the state’s first compassion center for medical-marijuana patients are qualified to open their doors.

The announcement came in a four-paragraph e-mail that said all of the applicants “either failed to meet the minimum scoring requirements or they were disqualified from review for failing to comply with the application requirements.”

The department said it will begin the process of soliciting applications again in October and the current applicants may reapply.

Health officials said nine of those applicants failed to meet the minimum score requirements of the review process.

The department said it received “eight formal letters of concern” about applicants, with allegations of non-compliance with application instructions or regulations. The citations included claims that applications had more pages than the department specified and raised issues about zoning, financing and residency requirements, the department said.

“Upon a second review of the applications, HEALTH found that some of these complaints had merit, and after final review disqualified all 15 applicants.”

David R. Gifford, health department director said: “This is the first time the department has undergone such a process. We are disappointed that we could not select at least one applicant, but are optimistic that by clarifying the application process we will have a clearer process going forward that will yield at least one successful application.”

Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for Governor Carcieri, said the governor met with Gifford and was briefed on the department’s decision Friday morning. She said that Carcieri declined to respond publicly to the decision.

After soliciting proposals and getting the 15 applications in mid-May, the department held a public hearing in late June on the plans. It had originally intended to select by the end of July applicants to open as many as three centers. The department extended the time for the announcement to September for additional review.

Friday’s announcement did not sit well with several of the applicants and with JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. The coalition concerns itself with patients in the medical-marijuana program.

“This is just horrible,” Leppanen said. “This is such a disappointment that I cannot even tell you. I feel like the patients’ welfare is being lost in a bureaucratic haze.”

According to the Health Department, there are 2,380 patients in the medical-marijuana program, which the department has said is growing by some 50 new patients weekly. It is the patient’s responsibility to find a caregiver, or licensed supplier of marijuana, to provide the drug to ease pain, anxiety or other medical maladies.

Leppanen said that the compassion centers would allow the patients to visit a reputable business that would grow and sell the drug. Now, she said, patients often turn to disreputable caregivers or street dealers for their marijuana.

Leppanen said that she reviewed many of the applications and she was impressed with their thoroughness and the reputable people behind the proposals. Among them are an acupuncturist, the state’s former auditor general, a retired Cranston police chief and a longtime educator.

Most of the proposed compassion centers would have been in the heavily populated Providence metropolitan area, while there are also proposals to open establishments in Woonsocket, South County and Portsmouth. The applications totaled more than 1,000 pages and read like detailed business proposals.

William Walter, president and chief executive officer of Innovative Solutions for Non-Profits Inc., a proposed compassion center on West Fountain Street, was not aware of the Health Department’s announcement.

“I’m disappointed,” he said. “Certainly, I do feel that we were qualified. I’m sorry to hear it.”

Walter said that his group will continue to try to be the operator of the first compassion center in Rhode Island.

Chris Reilly, spokesman for the proposed Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center on Harris Avenue in Providence, was stunned by the Health Department’s decision. He said that the Slater team was never contacted by anyone in the department about problems with its application. He said that he would like to know who was involved in the review process and wants the department to provide him with details on how they reached its decision on rejecting the Slater proposal.

Leppanen also said that she believes the review and scoring data should be made public.

Reilly said that he does not know whether the Slater team will resubmit its application for a process that may not be resolved until next year.

“We are weighing our options,” he said. “It’s hard to say. We have to sit back and really take a look at it.”

NewsHawk: User: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: projo.com
Author: W. Zachary Malinowski
Copyright: 2010 projo.com
Contact: Rhode Island, Providence, news, sports, entertainment, ads | projo.com | The Providence Journal
Website: Compassion center bids rejected by health panel | Rhode Island news | projo.com | The Providence Journal
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