Pubdate: Sat, 31 Jul 2010
Source: Call, The (Woonsocket, RI)
Copyright: 2010 The Call.
Author: Russ Olivo


WOONSOCKET - Never mind that the state Department of Health has yet to
grant a single license for a compassion center where medical marijuana
would be distributed, local officials are all set to go on record
against one that's seeking a permit to set up shop in Park Square. The
City Council will consider a resolution on Monday denouncing the
proposal, which City Council President John Ward calls "illegal." Ward
said the facility is in violation of the state law that allows DOH to
license compassion centers on condition they are no closer than 500
feet from the nearest school.

The Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Dispensary envisions opening in a
vacant branch of Bank of America in Park Square - which Ward says is
closer to a Catholic elementary school than the law allows.

"The law clearly indicates that a compassion center or distribution
center cannot be located within 500 feet of a public or private
school," said Ward. "That location is only 350 feet from the property
line of Monsignor Gadoury School."

The Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Dispensary is one of 15 proposed
compassion centers in the state whose license applications are up for
consideration by DOH. Jerome Smith, a former state lawmaker and the
retired chief clerk of the District Court, and Dennis Gentili, an
administrator in the Thompson, Conn. public school district and
longtime city educator, are seeking the permit for the only compassion
center in northern Rhode Island. Others have been proposed in
Pawtucket, Providence, Cranston, Warwick, Coventry and Portsmouth.

DOH had said it would make a decision on licensing up to three
facilities by July 30, but Health Director David Gifford issued a
statement several days ago indicating that the department would
probably need until at least early September to do so. He said DOH
received more applications than it expected and officials want to make
a thorough evaluation of the materials.

Four members of the City Council are already on record in support of
the anti-dispensary resolution - including Ward, Stella Brien, William
D. Schneck Jr. and Suzanne J. Vadenais. Ward said Councilman Dan
Gendron's name would also be added to the resolution before the panel
meets on Monday.

The tersely-worded resolution is just six sentences long and does not
delve into the hotly debated pros and cons surrounding the issue of
medical marijuana. Nor is the proximity of the Monsignor Gadoury
School cited as grounds for deep-sixing the proposal.

The only material issue the measure cites as cause for opposing the
dispensary is that the proposed location isn't central enough to the
state for the convenience of those it is intended to serve.

"Whereas," the measure reads, "one of the criteria to be considered in
the granting of a compassion center certificate is the convenience to
patients from throughout the State of Rhode Island... and the City of
Woonsocket, being at the most northerly point of Rhode Island...the
City Council of the City of Woonsocket hereby formally expresses its
opposition to the location of a medical marijuana compassion center in
the City of Woonsocket."

Mayor Leo T. Fontaine could not be reached for comment Friday, but he
told The Call several weeks ago that he, too, is opposed to the Park
Square dispensary.

The resolution has no binding effect on DOH's discretion in whether to
grant the license, but Ward said he hopes the resolution rises above
the level of a mere symbolic protest. He said the medical marijuana
law says DOH must factor into its evaluation of licenses whether
compassion centers are supported or opposed in the communities where
they intend to do business.

Ward said some officials may oppose the facility because federal law
still does not recognize medical marijuana or perhaps because they see
compassion centers as a step toward blanket decriminalization of a
controlled substance. But the council president said it isn't
necessary for officials to delve too deeply into the lively
philosophical debate surrounding the issue.

"I specifically tried to avoid that," Ward said. "Expressing our
opinion in a general way is really more in keeping with the spirit of
the law."

Ward said that he doesn't know whether all seven members of the City
Council will vote in favor of the resolution and, though he is
personally opposed to the compassion center, he hasn't gotten all that
much feedback from constituents about it. Ward said he did receive a
handful of calls from neighbors of the Marchegiano Club on St. Louis
Avenue, a shuttered social club where the operators of the dispensary
plan on growing the marijuana they would distribute from the Park
Square site.

Ward said the neighbors expressed concerns about security. In a rough
draft of their business plan, submitted as part of the license
application, Gentili and Smith say they would employ about 10
full-time workers during their startup year, spending roughly $440,000
on personnel - about 25 percent of it for security.

Rhode Island is one of 14 states that allow possession of small
amounts of marijuana to treat symptoms of AIDS, hepatitis, glaucoma,
cancer and other debilitating afflictions. The General Assembly
amended the 2006 medical marijuana law last year to make it easier for
authorized patients to obtain the drug safely and legally. Rhode
Island is among far fewer states, including California, Maine and
Colorado, where storefront-style sales of marijuana are also legal. 
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