Reefer medness

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 10, 2011

The spa, which he runs with his wife, has been quite successful; they've expanded three times now. But he's devoted substantial time over the last couple of years to his medical marijuana proposal.

Bock developed an interest after an aunt used cannabis to improve her appetite and better manage pain and nausea during a years-long fight with breast cancer. And he began casually following the state's medical marijuana push in 2006.

"One night I had a dream about compassion centers," Bock says, "and I woke up that morning and opened the Providence Journal and saw that it was the first big public hearing for compassion centers. So I took that as a sign that I should look into it."

It was a hokey beginning, he acknowledges. But since then, he has taken a very politic, very business-like approach. He's met with lawyers for hours on end and spoken to area police chiefs. He's obtained a letter of support from several local legislators. He's even crafted a pitch tuned to Rhode Island's parochial streak: East Bay patients, he argues, will be too far from their medicine if the state only approves compassion centers in metro Providence and South County.

And in the process, Bock has laid out a compassion center experience that would differ sharply from the corner buy or co-op grow that predominates now.

Bock imagines a clean, clinical, tranquil feel at his proposed facility, the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center. A pharmacy would offer up various strains of marijuana and an assortment of "edibles," pot brownies among them. In the retail center, patients could shop for a variety of pipes and vaporizers. And in the kitchen, an aproned chef would lead marijuana-themed cooking classes if there was enough patient interest.

This sort of thing costs money; Bock says he needs to make at least $75,000 per year for the venture to be worthwhile. And he acknowledges the cost concerns of the grassroots grass set — most of the product he offers up will cost $200 to $250 per ounce, some could go for as much as $400.

But price is an issue under the present regime: there are many a story of shady caregivers gauging patients. And even advocates acknowledge that the state has a compelling interest in robust prices at the compassion centers — sell it too cheap, and patients will have an incentive to buy extra and sell it on the street.

Bock, like the others angling for a compassion center license, says he would do what he can to make the product affordable. He purposely left yoga studios and other costly appendages out of his proposal in a bid to hold down the price. And he adds that Greenleaf would offer low-cost medical marijuana, on a sliding scale, to low-income patients; the poorest would get it for free.

But there are other reasons, he suggests, for the medical marijuana movement to welcome the arrival of compassion centers: easier access for patients, of course, but also the gradual withering of the stigma attached to marijuana.

The plant, Bock says, has a rich history in Chinese herbal medicine. Its potential in Rhode Island is vast. And when it is finally out in the open, he argues, the focus will finally be where it should: "on the merits of the medicine."

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