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After failed first round, state seeks applicants for pot centers

Rhode Island's medical marijuana situation is in a bit of a haze. After denying every license in a first round of applications last month, the state's health department is once again soliciting compassion center applications.

There are currently about 2,500 patients and 1,800 caregivers in the state, said Katherine Reardon '12, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Caregivers are private citizens with the legal right to grow marijuana for up to five other patients. According to Reardon, the problem with the system is a lack of regulation.

"Let's pretend a caregiver is doing everything right but then just doesn't realize that his crop has gotten moldy," she said. "Then a patient who is very sick … accepts the marijuana from the caregiver … and then smokes it, gets terribly sick from the mold. ... It's definitely a risk."

Compassion centers — storefront dispensaries or grow rooms — are designed to be a safer alternative. The Department of Health solicited applications last month for compassion center licenses, but rejected all fifteen submissions, according to the Providence Journal.

"We determined that none of the applications were qualified, they either exceeded the 25-page limit or the applicant was a for-profit entity which clearly contradicted the statute for the program," said Annemarie Beardsworth, public information officer for the Health Department.

In response to the dearth of acceptable applicants, the health department is soliciting a second round of applications, Beardsworth said.

Following the Nov. 12 deadline, the Health Department will oversee a "completeness review," checking for all requested information, she said. "Once we deem an application is complete, we will post these applications on the Department of Health website."

The public can then post comments either for or against any of the applicants, according to Beardsworth.

"Most applications tend to come in the last couple of days," so it is difficult to estimate how many applications to expect, she said. The department will grant no more than three licenses, she said.

The 15 applicants from the previous round are allowed to reapply.

"We hope that we do get an applicant that is qualified," she said.

A caregiver in Pawtucket attributed the denied applications for compassion centers to the mafia, saying that after the mafia was denied, it prevented others from getting licenses for compassion centers. He declined to identify himself because of the risks associated with growing medical marijuana.

Recent police raids have targeted caregivers in the state, Reardon said. "And that was a lot of medicine that was destroyed for no reason and we're sort of baffled," she said. "If you have an MS attack and don't have any medicine, you could do permanent damage," she said.

Reardon pointed out that while Maine began the procedure for licensing compassion centers after Rhode Island, it already has established centers, while the Ocean State does not.


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