Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Program Back on Track, But Federal Threat Remains

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An interesting turn of events in Rhode Island over the past few days has given medical cannabis proponents, would-be MMJ professionals and industry vendors new hope that the state will move forward with its marijuana dispensary program.

Last week, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and state lawmakers announced an agreement that would allow three cannabis dispensaries to open in the near future. The crux of the deal is a provision that strictly limits the amount of marijuana centers could have on hand at any given time, which lawmakers hope will ease concerns that individuals will be prosecuted by the federal government. The state General Assembly must now approve the agreement, and it is expected to do so.

Rhode Island was set to begin a dispensary program last year and had already chosen three would-be MMJ centers, but Chafee blocked it at the 11th hour after the government warned that those involved could face criminal charges.

The deal reached by lawmakers last week is good news for the 4,500 residents with state-approved medical marijuana cards, who currently have limited options for obtaining their medicine. It also could be a boon for  entrepreneurs, would-be dispensary owners and businesses that can service the industry, including hydroponics shops and security companies.

But this roller coaster ride isn’t over yet, and no one is sure what’s around the next bend, as the federal government could once again scuttle the whole shebang.

The top federal attorney in Rhode Island responded yesterday to the state’s dispensary plans, saying in a letter that the government is still opposed to medical marijuana and that dispensary owners could face prosecution.

Of course, no one expected a U.S. attorney to come out in support of an MMJ program, so the reaction to the letter so far has been muted. It appears likely that the state will push through its dispensary program this time despite the federal threats, as lawmakers now believe they have made all efforts to ensure that the program will not be abused, lowering the risk of prosecution.