Metro, News

R.I. eyes medical marijuana expansion

Increasing number of dispensaries projected to raise $5.1 million in revenue for state

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2018

The number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island could increase from three to 15, raising $5.1 million in projected revenue, according to a new budget proposal released by Gov. Gina Raimondo Jan. 18.

When it comes to medical marijuana, “we lag far behind in comparison to the rest of the country,” said Norman Birenbaum, principal policy and economic analyst for the state’s medical marijuana program. In states with legalized medical marijuana, there is an average of 1,400 patients per dispensary, but in Rhode Island, there is an average of 6,000 patients per dispensary, Birenbaum said.

Raimondo’s plan for the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program also allows people suffering from acute pain to receive recommendations from physicians that would enable them to use cannabis products.

Acute pain refers to the “normal, predicted onset of pain,” Birenbaum said. Patients could access marijuana to recover from surgery or while recovering from a car accident, for example, he added.

Expanding the availability of medical marijuana could help prevent opioid addictions, Birenbaum said. Opioids are frequently prescribed for patients following surgeries, and can be habit forming.

According to Raimondo’s budget proposal overview, there were 233 opioid overdose deaths in Rhode Island in 2017.

“The more we can get away from opioids, the better it is,” said Nadir Pearson ’19, founder of the Student Marijuana Alliance for Research and Transparency. “Cannabis is not physiologically addicting the same way opioids are.”

Licensing more dispensaries will also help ensure greater regulation as well as safer products and purchasing, Birenbaum said. While there are over 60,000 registered home-grown plants, there are only 9,500 plants in the three dispensaries, he said.

Medical marijuana production could then be handed over to dispensaries to “make sure patients don’t have to buy from (the) black market or grow from homes,” Birenbaum said.

But some believe that Raimondo’s proposal does not go far enough in its efforts to expand the marijuana industry. According to Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, the state is being short-sighted by refusing to legalize marijuana recreationally when other nearby states, like Massachusetts, have already done so.

The continued prohibition of recreational use “is going to rob the state of financial benefits and put a strain on law enforcement for enforcing laws against behavior that should be legal,” Fox said.   

Though it has been legal since 2006, medical marijuana is not considered a prescription drug because the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, Birenbaum said. Doctors can therefore “recommend” but not prescribe medical marijuana, he added.

“It is treated like over-the-counter medicine in Rhode Island and taxed at a 7 percent sales tax,” Birenbaum said. But prices will be lowered due to expanded competition with more dispensaries and patients will have to travel shorter distances to reach one, he added.

“The overall theme is making sure regulated medicine is more accessible,” Birenbaum said. 

Corrections: A previous version of this article stated that Nadir Pearson said that “Cannabis is not physiologically addicting the same way opioids are, and you won’t get physical withdrawal symptoms.” In fact, cannabis habits can produce physical withdrawal symptoms. A previous version of this article also stated that Norman Birenbaum said that “Expanding the availability of medical marijuana could help prevent opioid addictions, since opioid products are often prescribed after surgeries and are addictive after three days.” In fact, there is not clear evidence that opioids are addictive after three days. The Herald regrets the errors. 

  • Brian Kelly

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All American pastime, alcohol.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Nationwide!

    • Brian Kelly

      The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

      Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our yearly tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

      The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

      Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

      The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

      Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

      Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

      • Brian Kelly

        In the prohibitionist’s world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are “stoners” and “dopers” that need to be incarcerated in order to to protect society.

        In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about “saving us all” from the “evils” of marijuana use.

        Who are they to tell us we can’t choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

        People who consume marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who “follow the law” also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it’s current prohibition of course) .

        Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make them out to be. They are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

        Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their marijuana use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

        Although that doesn’t mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like “dopers” and “stoners” about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

        To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it’s an All American pastime.

        There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

        So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can’t enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

        We’ve worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don’t appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

        Has a marijuana consumer ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force anybody not to either.

        Don’t try to impose your morality and “clean living” upon everybody else with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won’t think you’re such prohibitionist hypocrites.

        Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

        • Brian Kelly

          “Marijuana is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol”

          http://rt.com/usa/234903-marijuana-safer-alcohol-deadly/

          “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say”

          “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23

          Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

          Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.”

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/02/23/marijuana-may-be-even-safer-than-previously-thought-researchers-say/

          “The report discovered that marijuana is 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Researchers were able to determine this by comparing the lethal doses with the amount of typical use. Through this approach, marijuana had the lowest mortality risk to users out of all the drugs they studied. In fact—because the numbers were crossed with typical daily use—marijuana is the only drug that tested as “low risk.”

          http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2015/02/scientific-reports-weed-114-safer-alcohol