Medical marijuana 2.0

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  January 11, 2012

Perry, the state senator who helped write the medical marijuana law, is as eager as anyone to move forward on a workable program. In 2003, she watched her nephew, Edward O. Hawkins, wither away from complications related to AIDS.

"We saw what it was like, the kind of pain medication he had to use," she says, "the oxycodone, the opiates. He talked like vegetable soup. We didn't know what he was talking about."

The medical marijuana law was, ultimately, named after Hawkins and state Representative Thomas C. Slater, who fought for the measure and the subsequent bill allowing for compassion centers. He died of cancer in August 2009.

Perry, after meeting with Chafee at the January 9 meeting, says she's "sanguine" about the potential for a new compassion center bill emerging in the next four to six weeks.

She declined to commit to the 999-plant limit that advocates have suggested, but allowed that lawmakers will have to settle on some sort of number. And avoiding a federal crackdown will not be the only factor in arriving at a figure.

The legislature will also have to consider the viability of the dispensaries — non-profits that have to pull in enough revenue to keep the doors open and pay the managers a worthwhile salary.

Seth Bock, an acupuncturist who was slated to open the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth before Chafee pulled the plug, says he never planned to grow more than 1000 plants in his first few years anyhow. So the limits the dispensaries have been discussing, he says, wouldn't hurt much.

But Chris Reilly, a spokesman and strategist for the proposed Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, says 999 plants wouldn't meet patient need in the more densely populated area surrounding the state capital — and could make it difficult for the dispensary, itself, to stay afloat.

Some sort of network of smaller growers feeding the center with additional plants would be necessary, he argues.

A representative for the third dispensary approved under the old regime — Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick, which projected 8000 patients and $25 million in revenue by 2013 in its original application to the state — did not return a call for comment.


If the scaled-down compassion center program makes its way through the legislature and proves financially viable for the dispensaries, what will Medical Marijuana 2.0 look like?

A hybrid, it seems.

The present-day regime — call it Medical Marijuana 1.0 — is a bit of a patchwork. Unable to buy pot legally, patients either skulk around Kennedy Plaza looking for product, grow it themselves under state license, or outsource the work to a legally designated caregiver.

The system is something less than reliable and, occasionally, a little scary.

So when it looked as if three full-scale medical marijuana dispensaries would open, many participants were less-than-concerned about the possible withering of the old ways.

But there was a touch of ambivalence in some corners. The underground system, at its best, has a homespun, DIY vibe to it. Committed caregivers have been known to dole out pot, for free, to patients in need; those who grow for themselves take a certain pride in self-reliance.

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