State Budget Paves Way For Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Saturday, July 09, 2011


The newly passed state budget for fiscal year 2012 includes nearly $1 million in expected revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries. There is one problem, however. The three applicants granted permission to open the dispensaries have had their plans shelved for the time being as Governor Chafee waits to learn more about whether the Department of Justice will seek to prosecute those operating the shops.

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According to a memo released in April from U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, the DOJ has not made it a priority to investigate those using, but “individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distributing activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law” could be prosecuted.

A subsequent memo leaked to the Associated Press this week confirmed that anyone “facilitating” medical marijuana production on a large scale could face charges.

Governor Placed Hold On Registrations

In early May, Governor Chafee placed a hold on the registration status of the state’s three approved compassion center applicants. Chafee said he wanted to consult with Governors in other states about how to proceed.

“None of Rhode Island’s compassion center applicants have received a certificate of registration to date,” he said at the time. “In light of the United States Attorney’s articulated position on closing compassion centers, seizing proceeds and prosecuting business enterprises that market and sell medical marijuana, I have placed a hold on the State’s medical marijuana certificate of registration program. During this hiatus, I will be consulting with the governors of other states with similar medical marijuana programs, with federal officials and with the compassion center applicants themselves.”

Budget Includes Governor’s Recommended Revenues

Still, the state budget passed last week includes $700,000 in revenue from compassion centers. House Spokesman Larry Berman said the Governor never asked to withdraw the recommended revenue and the General Assembly chose to leave it in the budget at his request.

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“The budget included the Governor’s recommended revenues from these facilities,” Berman said. “There were no subsequent requests from the Governor to withdraw that recommendation. In fact, the Governor submitted a request to increase that estimate based on the final complement of licensed facilities.”

Berman said House Speaker Gordon Fox does not have an opinion regarding the DOJ memo and the compassion centers.

“The Speaker does not have an opinion on whether or not there will be an agreement reached between the dispensaries and DOJ,” he said. “The Assembly booked the revenue at the Governor’s request and the Speaker has not had any indications from the Governor otherwise.”

Compassion Centers Will Probably Open In 2012

But state medical marijuana advocates say it could be a good sign that revenue is included in the new budget.

Dave LaRose from the Rhode Island Cannabis Community said he doesn’t believe the dispensaries will open this year and that early 2012 is more likely. Depending on the timing, the state could still have up to six months of the 2012 fiscal year to college taxes from the compassion centers.

“It might happen at the very end of this year or early next year,” Larose said Friday.

While LaRose acknowledged that having the anticipated revenue in the budget could be a good sign, he said there is still a lot to be determined.

“Governor Chafee has told me that he doesn’t feel comfortable moving forward until the Department of Justice clarifies its stance,” he said. “I think it’s just another stall tactic”

Put Money Into Programs

And LaRose said it is a shame that state lawmakers included the revenue in the budget if all they want to do is close a budget deficit.

“It’s sickening,” he said. “If they want to put the money back into programs, I don’t think it’s a problem. But it’s ‘BS” to use that money for closing the deficit.”


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