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R.I. Medical Marijuana Patients Upset With Threat to Prosecute Dispensaries

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PROVIDENCE – The growing ranks of patients in the state's medical-marijuana program are frustrated, depressed and angry with last week's announcement that the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island is threatening to prosecute and take civil action against anyone involved in the state's three proposed marijuana dispensaries.

JoAnne Lepannen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, said that she has been flooded with calls from many of the 3,459 patients in the program designed to help those with chronic pain and other medical maladies cope with the ailments.

"We are having much more of a depression problem," she said. "We are talking about a population of people with very debilitating illness. People are losing hope. They just want to pull down the shades and give up."

Lepannen is hoping to roust many of the patients from their slumber on Wednesday at 1 p.m. for a rally at the State House rotunda. They will gather to express their disappointment with the federal initiative that Peter Neronha, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, made public late Friday afternoon. They also will urge Governor Chafee to support the state law that legalized medical marijuana in 2006 and allowed for the establishment of three dispensaries, or compassion centers, to sell marijuana in the state.

On Monday, Chafee's office "placed a hold" on the dispensaries in response to Neronha's announcement.

Rhode Island is one of 15 states and the District of Columbia that permits the sale of medical marijuana. The other two New England states are Maine and Vermont. Like Rhode Island, they are in the process of opening dispensaries.

The three Rhode Island dispensaries, Summit Medical Compassion Center, in Warwick; Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, in Providence; and Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, in Portsmouth, were expected to open for business by late summer.

Now, those plans are up in the air and the uncertainty has had a ripple effect across the state.

Barbara St. Denis, 55, lives alone in a small trailer in Chepachet. She has a license for medical marijuana and she takes 20 different pills each day for asthma, chronic pain and to help her sleep. She said that her lungs suffered permanent damage three decades ago from inhaling plastic at a toy factory in Pawtucket. She also said that she was struck by a car when she was working at a car wash in Cranston in 1999.

St. Denis said she was "heartbroken," when she learned that the opening of the dispensaries is delayed and she's concerned that they may never open. She said that she has a hard time finding a reliable caregiver who will travel to rural northern Rhode Island and provide her with medical marijuana.

Under the state program, there are 2,221 licensed caregivers who are allowed to grow up to 24 marijuana plants to provide marijuana to as many as five patients registered in the medical-marijuana program. The prices and quality of the marijuana varies greatly and many patients complain about unscrupulous caregivers.

St. Denis said that she had been planning to have her nephew take her to the Slater compassion center in Providence.

"I'm in the woods, and there is nobody here, but us chickens," she said. "I'm frustrated. I'm crying half the days. [The federal government] really let me down."

In Pawtucket, James Livingston, another patient in the medical-marijuana program, was in his wheelchair when he answered the door to his third-floor apartment near Memorial Hospital. He was stunned when he heard about Neronha's announcement.

"Are you kidding me," Livingston, 32, said he thought to himself. "I literally thought it was a joke."

Livingston, who suffers from chronic pain associated with back problems, said that the crackdown on the dispensaries would be especially hard on "shut-ins" and elderly patients who have a hard time getting medical marijuana. He predicted that they will turn to prescription narcotics which, he said, are highly addictive and much more harmful that smoking or ingesting cannabis products.

Mary Anne Hanley, of Warwick, once taught technology education at Lincoln High School. She's a breast-cancer survivor and also suffers from chronic Lyme disease and fibromyalgia, a muscle and nerve disease. She was interested in seeing what the dispensaries had to offer, especially Summit, which is not too far from her home.

She also pointed out that the dispensaries would offer different strains of marijuana to deal with specific problems such as lack of energy, headaches and nausea.

With the existing caregiver program, she said, a patient is forced to take what he or she can get. The choices are limited.

"It's a shame," she said about the federal announcement. "They are just trying to intimidate the state and the compassion-center growers."

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: projo.com
Author: Zachary Malinowski
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: The Providence Journal Co.
Website: R.I. medical marijuana patients upset with threat to prosecute dispensaries
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