Over 100 Rhode Islanders attended yesterday's public hearing on the 18 applications to develop in-state medical marijuana businesses, called "compassion centers."
The compassion center applications were submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Health for a second round review in mid-January. The department rejected all applications during the first round review in September, alleging complaints against many of the applications.
Several of the current applications list Rhode Island public figures as partners, including William Lynch, former first district Congressional candidate and state Democratic Party chairman, and Cuttino Mobley, a retired NBA player.
The 2009 Medical Marijuana Act stipulated that the Department of Health could register up to three compassion centers for the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana. Since the passage of a 2006 law allowing licensed patients to use cannabis for medical purposes, more than 3000 patients have been licensed to use the drug.
Many of the proposed centers met early opposition. One applicant, the Rhode Island Center for Compassion and Wellness — backed by a number of high-profile Rhode Islanders including Lynch, retired Pawtucket police chief George Kelley and real estate developer Louis Yip — listed the former headquarters of the To Kalon Club, a historic Pawtucket socia lclub once frequented by the state's business elite, as the location for the proposed center. But according to Greg Troy, president of the To Kalon Club, the location will not become a compassion center.
The Rhode Island Center for Compassion and Wellness "never told us what they were doing," Troy said. "We didn't know what the process was, and we didn't object to it."
Last month, the To Kalon Club announced it would accept a different offer to purchase its building. The Rhode Island Center for Compassion and Wellness was simply "not the best bid," Troy said.
At yesterday's public hearing, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung testified in opposition to the several applications for compassion centers in Cranston. "Marijuana is a dangerous drug," Fung said. "I believe the cultivation (of marijuana) … in the quantities listed by the compassions centers is in contravention of federal dictation."
Robberies of marijuana and cash from the proposed compassion centers pose a risk to public safety, he added.
Compassion center supporters also voiced their views at the hearing.
Compassion centers could be economically beneficial for the state, said Scott Miller, a resident of Lincoln. "If the state could generate revenue, then medical marijuana is an important economic investment, and the state should move forward with it," he said.
All of the applications for compassion centers projected their first-year profits to be in the millions of dollars.
Medical marijuana patient Donna Marcelonis suffers from stage III breast cancer and holds a license to use the drug. "I am 47, but I feel like I am 70," she said of her illness.
"Marijuana allows me to not feel as bad every day. Medical marijuana allows me to cut down the number of medications from 15 to 2," Marcelonis said.
Michael Graham, a North Kingston medical marijuana patient, said marijuana helps ease his chronic pain.
"Opiates only aggravate the problem," he said. "Cannabis is the only thing that has ever worked … I want people to have safe cannabis."