RI ACLU, RIPAC Blast Department of Health’s Regulations on Medical Marijuana

Thursday, December 22, 2016


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ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown

The ACLU of Rhode Island, as well as the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), blasted the Rhode Island Department of Health's (DOH) new regulations governing the medical marijuana program that the groups say will harm patients’ access to the program. 

“It is both ironic and deeply disturbing that, even as the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Rhode Island seems ever more likely, the state is putting completely unnecessary and burdensome obstacles in the way of those who need to use the drug for medicinal purposes. In a few years, it will probably be easier for a healthy millennial to legally purchase marijuana than for a sick patient to do so. That is nothing short of cruel,” said ACLU of RI Executive Director Steven Brown. 

At a public hearing held last month, the two groups and individual participants in the program urged several revisions to the Department’s proposed regulations to avoid this scenario. However, the DOH made no changes before filing the rules for adoption on Friday.

“RI residents suffering from serious debilitating medical conditions who have been successfully participating in the program will suddenly find themselves with new costs and requirements that may make their continued participation in the program less likely. The medical marijuana program is getting too expensive and burdensome for sick and disabled patients, some of whom are now considering giving up their legal status and relying on the illegal market,” said JoAnne Leppanen, Executive Director of RIPAC.  ­­­­

ACLU and RIPAC's Concerns Ignored

The ACLU said that the concerns that were ignored were as follows: 

 * Patients will be forced to pay for more doctor visits, as they will have to see their physician at least twice a year for an “assessment” in order to have their medical marijuana card renewed. The requirement applies to all patients, including those with incurable medical conditions who have been successfully medicating with cannabis since the program took effect ten years ago. The ACLU and RIPAC had argued that this new requirement was not only unnecessary for many patients, but that it puts a significant financial burden on them, and would be particularly onerous for poor patients and those with mobility issues. The licensing fee was also doubled for low-income patients, and the rules fail to incorporate a change in the law this year requiring fee waivers for hospice patients and their caregivers.

* Physicians will now be required to turn over to the DOH all “relevant” medical records that document the patient's medical condition authorizing their participation in the program. This would apply to all patients, including those who have been participating in the program for years. But the rules fail to define what constitute “relevant” medical records, don’t explain how the confidentiality of those records would be protected, and provide no guidance on how a DOH determination contrary to the physician’s could be appealed. The ACLU argued that these were important issues “that need to be answered before the Department begins receiving sensitive medical records of participating patients.”

* If a patient needs someone to pick their medicine up for them at a compassion center, they can appoint an “authorized purchaser” to do so, but that person must pay $135 in registration and background check fees to qualify. 

* The rules fail to address a major problem that the ACLU and RIPAC have encountered of employers denying jobs to medical marijuana patients who test positive for marijuana on drug tests, notwithstanding statutory language barring employment discrimination against medical marijuana cardholders.            

* The rules now require caregivers to live in Rhode Island. RIPAC director Leppanen said, “we have Rhode Island caregivers who moved to Massachusetts but kept their commitment to their patients because their patients need them. The new regulations will end those relationships.” In its testimony, the ACLU said that “Rhode Island is simply too small a state to impose such a restriction, as it needlessly limits the pool and availability of caregivers to patients who require one, particularly those who live near the Massachusetts and Connecticut borders.”

“My father’s vision in legalizing medical marijuana was to provide compassion and safe access for patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions. Instead, the conversations about the program increasingly center around finances. Unfortunately, these regulations make it more difficult and send the patients that the Program was designed to protect to the unsafe illegal market and/or return them to less effective medicines, medicines with terrible side effects, and/or opiates that they may be addicted to,” said Rep. Scott Slater. 

Click here for the ACLU of RI and RIPAC’s written testimony to the Department of Health. 


See Who Supports Marijuana Legalization in the Slideshow Below 


Related Slideshow: Who Supports, Opposes Marijuana Legalization in RI in 2016

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Jared Moffat with RegulateRI pointed to Colorado’s regulated marijuana system generating more than $135 million in revenue in 2015 -- as well as potential competition from Massachusetts if they legalize marijuana first -- as reasons for Rhode Island lawmakers to act on the legislation this year. 

“Vermont and Massachusetts, we should be well aware of the fact that they're moving seriously towards legalization,” said Moffat. “We've had the debate for five years now -- and it's coming. The question is now do we want to get ahead of the curve. Our hope is that now that tolls vote happened, that this will be the next thing that fills the void."

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Rhode Island Medical Society

"Legislatively, we have nine point policy on drugs, and the last one is we don't support legalization.  It's not specific to marijuana, but it's the closest the [American Medical Association] comes to policy," said Steve DeToy, RIMS Director of Public Affairs.

"We support medical marijuana. Taxing the patient isn't something we'd support, but if it's for regulating an unregulated supply system, we support that," said DeToy. "Rhode Island has two types of suppliers, one is the compassion centers that have had strict oversight, and the other is the caregivers' side which hasn't had the same level of protections and oversight at this time."

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NAACP Providence Branch

NAACP Providence Branch President Jim Vincent serves on the RegulateRI coalition -- and offered the following:

"The New England Area Conference [of the NAACP] voted in favor of the legislation.  It continues to be an issue that tears apart our community, this war on drugs. It's a key factor why our community is suffering, when we can be keeping people out of jail for something that can be regulated," said Vincent. 

"Legalization is many issues -- it's social justice. for others its medicinal, they for others its a tax raising issue," said Vincent. "I'm staying on the social justice."

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RI Taxpayers

"Marijuana will be the next great debate.  With leadership unwilling to address their broken culture of inefficiency and questionable ethics, they will look to any source for future funds that will not impact the current culture," said RI Taxpayers' Larry Girouard. "Tolls, pot, gambling and other initiatives do not require leadership to change anything. They just tap new funding sources."
"When you have the most hostile business climate in the continental US, one would think there would be ample examples of things leadership might initiate to improve our business climate. Of course this would mean that leadership would need to make a few unpopular decisions, something that they seem unwilling to do. Name one thing that leadership has done over the last 5 years that demonstrates that they are really serious about changing Rhode Island’s abysmal anti-business brand. It is easier to create new sources of income, like tolls," said Larry Girouard.

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Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity

"Our statement is we're not 'pro' or con until we do more research," said Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse. "Our question is, if it's a lot like alcohol, and supporters say why don't we just tax it like that, then do we think more 'alcohol' for young Rhode Islanders is a good or bad thing?"

"When government in its voracious appetite for new revenue considers legislation that could arguably provide great societal or individual harm, you have to consider the pros and cons," said Stenhouse. "We'd have to look at Colorado and other states for the impact there."

"As for [taxing] medical marijuana, if we're taxing it simply as a revenue source, it's government out of control," said Stenhouse. "And if we try and overregulate, we know there's a huge black market for cigarettes already in Rhode Island."

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RI Progressive Democrats

"We support a legalize, tax, and regulate approach," said Sam Bell with the RI Progressive Democrats."

As for the Governor's proposal to tax medical marijuana caregivers and patients?

"We have not taken a formal position, but I would imaging the majority of our group would be opposed," said Bell. 

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RI Libertarian Party

"Continuing to waste resources on enforcing the prohibition on the consumption of marijuana, the moral equivalent of a good bourbon, is like flushing taxpayer dollars down the drain," said Pat Ford, Chairman of the RI Libertarian Party. "If adults want to use marijuana in the privacy of their home, why shouldn't they be allowed to do so without fear of prosecution?"  

"The War on Drugs is a consummate failure that has crossed our nation billions of dollars through the combined cost of interdiction and incarceration, exacerbated racial tensions, inspired a narco terrorist fueled refugee crisis and been the root cause underlying several public health crises," said Ford. "Waisted lives and wasted resources will be its sole legacy. The legalization of cannabis can begin to bring this madness to an end."


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