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Rhode Island's medical marijuana law could face substantial amendments
By Eileen McGuire-Mahony
Providence: RHODE ISLAND: Rhode Island may have legalized medical marijuana, but that doesn't necessarily mean the state is willing to let that be a private decision. A bill currently before the legislature would abolish most provisions in the 2006 bill that allow licensed users to grow or procure their supply privately and create government controlled dispensing centers instead.
Providence Democrat John M. Carnevale, a member of the House says his bill reflects a maturing view of legal marijuana, likening the state's interest in regulating all aspects of growing and selling it to the way the government regulates most drugs and medical treatments. Under the original Medical Marijuana Act, licensed users can grow their own supply – up to a dozen plants – if they wished. Alternately, they may designate a marijuana grower as their supplier, or “caregiver”. Caregivers also require licenses and cannot serve as the designated supplier to more than five users.
Carnevale's bill would eradicate that system as of January 1, 2013 and institute a system of government run “compassion centers” to serve as Rhode Island's sole source of legal medical marijuana. The legislator says his changes are needed to correct unintended consequences of the law, which he describes as running the gamut from licensed growers selling marijuana illicit to increased burglaries as people seek the plants.
The bill, now before the House Judiciary Committee, also recommends amendments to the regulation of caregivers between the law's passage and its effective date, such as criminalizing the free exchange of marijuana between multiple users and caregivers. Carnevale is also seeking to transfer the inspection and oversight function from the Health Department to the Police Department.
Like many fellow supporters of amending the marijuana law, Carnevale is a retired police officer. He says he supports the legal use of marijuana for people with certain medical conditions but express concern over potential fraud and abuse under the current 'caregiver' system.
Carnevale's bill comes soon after a Senate hearing to discuss taxation of legal marijuana, an area that might be significantly easier for the state under a system of government controlled dispensaries.