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Letter: Nothing to fear from marijuana dispensaries

To the Editor:

Regarding last Thursday's editorial ("The cannabis question," Oct. 1): I am disappointed to see that you have been swayed by law enforcement's talking points on the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries ("compassion centers" in the bill's language) in Rhode Island. Apparently, you share the concern that "the bill makes no provision for protecting the dispensary from robbery and preventing sales to casual users" and (ironically) fear that compassion centers might "endanger patients' supplies." These worries are completely unfounded. As provided by the bill, the Department of Health is currently drafting regulations to govern the compassion centers. The law was set up this way so that public health professionals, with input from patients and the public, could deliberate and decide how compassion centers should be run. To satisfy the requirements set forth by the bill, these regulations must include minimum oversight, security and record-keeping requirements.

Additionally, after releasing those regulations, the Department of Health will consider dozens, possibly hundreds, of applications for compassion center licenses. Initially, only one will be successful; applications for the second center will be accepted beginning in mid-2011. To have a chance, applicants must include "proposed security and safety measures which shall include at least one security alarm system for each location, planned measures to deter and prevent the unauthorized entrance into areas containing marijuana and the theft of marijuana, as well as a draft employee instruction manual ... "An applicant that hasn't given due consideration to these important issues will not be awarded a compassion center license, according to the bill. Due to the rigor and competition of the application process, Rhode Islanders are very likely to end up with a compassion center to be proud of, and a model for other states.

If legislators were to rescind and re-draft the bill, it would delay patients' safe access to their medicine. Such measures are not necessary, because contrary to law enforcement's talking points, issues such as security have been carefully considered, are provided for by the bill and will be given an in-depth treatment in both the Department of Health's regulations and the ultimately successful application for a compassion center license. Not only that, but robbery will remain illegal; if law enforcement is worried about thefts to compassion centers, they should oppose the opening of new pharmacies as well. It will also remain illegal for non-cardholders to buy marijuana. The intense scrutiny that compassion centers will undoubtedly face should keep them in line; if not, their license will be revoked. Again, an analogy can be made: Law enforcement doesn't oppose the existence of liquor stores on the grounds that they might sell to minors.

It seems that the opponents of medical marijuana in Rhode Island are hoping that their audience will take their statements at face value instead of checking the bill itself or thinking critically about the ways we usually prevent crime at other high-inventory businesses and health service locations. It is unfortunate that you have helped make this strategy viable.

Henry Harrison '09
Executive Director, Rhode Island Campaign for Informed Marijuana Policy
Oct. 8

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