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RI State Police Wants Info on Medical Pot Growers

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SCITUATE, R.I.–The new superintendent of the Rhode Island state police wants state health officials to provide law enforcement with information about medical marijuana growers to help police rule them out of any criminal wrongdoing.

Col. Steven G. O'Donnell told The Associated Press in a Wednesday interview that verifying whether an individual is authorized to grow pot would prevent unnecessary police search warrants and raids, save money on investigations and protect participants in the medical marijuana program.

"This law is really flawed when it comes to policing," said O'Donnell, who was sworn in last month. "We have no access to know when we're doing a criminal investigation on someone for marijuana if they're allowed to have it."

Regulations prohibit the state Department of Health from disclosing who is authorized to grow or use medical marijuana. Growers, also called caregivers, can have up to 24 marijuana plants and 5 ounces of marijuana for distribution to a patient. Patients can have up to 12 marijuana plants and 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana. Statewide, there are 3,580 medical marijuana patients and 2,263 caregivers, said health department spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth.

"We are aware that the law enforcement community has concerns about the medical marijuana program," she said. But "the department is following the law that was written by the General Assembly. The General Assembly is the entity that would need to change the law."

O'Donnell wants an administrative subpoena system run by state police to allow law enforcement to verify whether subjects of investigations are authorized to have marijuana. He said police want to honor the rights of law-abiding medical marijuana program participants, and accessing the information would prevent investigators from needlessly pursuing drug probes on legitimate growers, especially when police intelligence suggests the amount of marijuana is within legal limits.

Police now can only confirm whether people are licensed if they have their medical marijuana card.

"If you have a license and it's under ... 24 plants -- guess what? It's done," O'Donnell said. "We don't know if you have a card. We assume you don't. For us to assume you do is very dangerous for us."

Patients must grow marijuana themselves or enlist a licensed caregiver. Plans to license three compassion centers were suspended last month by Gov. Lincoln Chafee after U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha sent him a letter warning that they could lead to prosecutions.

State police Maj. David Neill said there have been six instances where police armed with search warrants showed up at the homes of medical marijuana participants complying with the law. There have also been multiple arrests of caregivers on allegations of drug dealing or growing too many plants. The state has revoked three caregiver licenses because of criminal offenses by the license holders since the program began in 2006, Beardsworth said.

Neill said efforts to convince lawmakers to amend the law have been unsuccessful.

JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, said participants have mixed feelings about providing law enforcement with more information.

"They don't want to worry about getting raided," Leppanen said. "We do have a significant percentage of the community that is more than happy to cooperate with the police. We have to be very careful about that accessibility because we're talking about medical information."

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: boston.com
Author: Laura Crimaldi
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: NY Times Co.
Website: RI state police wants info on medical pot growers
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