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U.S. Official to Miss R.I. Panel on Marijuana Dispensaries

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PROVIDENCE – Advocates for the establishment of medical-marijuana dispensaries in the state were looking forward to a workshop on Friday at the Rhode Island Bar Association's annual meeting that featured a top Health Department official and a prosecutor from the office of U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha.

But their hopes were dashed when word leaked out that Kenneth Madden, an assistant U.S. Attorney, would not be able to attend.

"Why would they put him on the panel if he's not going to be there?" said JoAnne Lepannen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. "It was very exciting to think that someone from [Neronha's] office was going to speak on the issues. It's very disappointing."

Jim Martin, Neronha's spokesman, said Madden is attending a weeklong Justice Department training seminar in South Carolina and cannot return in time for the afternoon workshop at the Rhode Island Convention Center. He said there is no plan to replace him with another prosecutor from the office.

Martin did not know when Madden first committed to being a panelist. Attempts to reach Lise Iwon, president of the bar association, were unsuccessful.

The workshop in question was supposed to feature a panel that included Madden and Dr. Charles Alexandre, the Health Department's regulatory chief. He has been the department's point man in the development of the state medical-marijuana program. Over the past two years, he has overseen the public hearings on the establishment of three marijuana dispensaries, also known as compassion centers.

The panel discussion is "Medical Marijuana: Unexpected Consequences for Employers, Landlords, Tenants, Licensed Health Facilities and Patients." A synopsis of the workshop reads, "State and federal law conflicts have raised serious questions about rights of patients, caregivers, employers, landlords, tenants and law enforcement. The panelists examine the rights and potential liabilities of patients, caregivers and those who house, employ and treat patients medically."

Lepannen and other medical-marijuana advocates were hoping that the panel discussion would shed further light on the Justice Department's position on marijuana dispensaries.

In April, following a lengthy 18-month process, Alexandre and the Health Department announced the selection of three dispensaries to sell marijuana legally to more than 4,000 patients registered in the state program. The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, in Providence; Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick; and the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, in Portsmouth, were chosen from 18 finalists.

The proprietors of the three centers were planning to open their facilities by late summer.

On April 29, those plans came to an abrupt halt. Neronha's office, which had been quiet throughout the dispensary-selection process, delivered a letter to Governor Chafee, saying that his office might criminally prosecute the centers and anyone affiliated with them for operating large-scale drug-manufacturing facilities.

Summit Medical Compassion Center projected in its application that, within three years, it would serve 8,000 patients and bring in $25 million in revenue.

U.S. Attorneys in other states with medical marijuana, such as Vermont and Maine, sent letters similar to Neronha's to state officeholders. Nonetheless, three compassion centers have opened in Frenchville, Auburn and Biddeford, in Maine, while Vermont's governor recently signed legislation to establish four dispensaries in his state.

Chafee has been more cautious. After receiving Neronha's letter, he immediately placed the state's dispensaries program on hold, meaning that he will not issue operating licenses to the three dispensaries until he gets more clarification from the Justice Department.

Two weeks ago, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder visited Providence and promised that his office would work closely with state officials from Rhode Island the other 14 states with medical-marijuana programs "to clarify" the Justice Department's position on the dispensaries.

Still, Chafee has refused to budge from his decision to place the dispensaries on hold.

Dr. Seth Bock, owner of Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, issued a carefully worded statement on Madden's decision to miss the bar association's workshop.

"We find it encouraging that the Department of Justice is willing to have a dialogue with state officials about this complex issue," he wrote. "We have been informed that [Madden], unfortunately, is unable to make the conference, however, we all hope this is an indication that this issue will be resolved by meaningful dialogue in the forum of public health."

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: projo.com
Author: W. Zachary Malinowski
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: The Providence Journal Co.
Website: U.S. official to miss R.I. panel on marijuana dispensaries
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