Earlier this month, several hundred medical marijuana patients and caregivers protested a new bill at the Rhode Island State House that would replace the state’s current caregiver system with a monopolistic medical marijuana dispensary model. The bill in question is co-sponsored by five Democratic state senators, while a group called Responsible Caregivers of Rhode Island started a gofundme campaign to raise money for an opposition lobbyist. At the time of this writing, they had already, rather quickly raised more than $5,700 from 31 individuals.
“If [the bill] passes, the medical marijuana program in [Rhode Island] loses its caregivers and thousands of patients would be priced out of the program,” says Ocean State medical patient Peter Benson. “It would prevent many of us from obtaining safe natural affordable medicine. Personally, I would need to go back on opiates and pharmaceutical muscle relaxers.”
Another patient, Tony Elliott posted on the Facebook event for the protest, “We have done some digging and discovered that the lobbyists that are behind this bill are being paid $5,500 a month from RI Growers and Distributors, LLC of Wakefield. The two main lobbyists, Steven Alves and Peter Petrarca are there names. Steven Alves was involved in several scandals, including a scandal back in 2003 dubbed ‘Operation Dollar Bill.’” Anne Armstrong, a former fringe candidate for governor in Rhode Island has also weighed in: “Why is a bogus organization called RIG’D paying Operation Dollar Bill Sleaze Lobbyists, Stephen Alves $11,000.00 per month to rig cannabis laws in Rhode Island?” The revelations continue:
- Who is really behind S0791, the deceptive dangerous bill which will place thousands of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable elderly and pediatric patients at risk?
- RIG’D is incorporated in February, 2015. Names showing up associated with this organization include Alves, Petrarchan, and a lawyer named DeSimeone.
- … People who had been led to believe all along that they were following the law are suddenly … facing stiff charges and [are] unable to grow more medicine. Just in time to give the excuse to [politicians] that ‘people are overgrowing and selling on the streets.’
Meanwhile, the unexpected may have happened in Mass. First, the Boston Globe finally admitted that delays in Department of Public Health medical marijuana dispensary licensing have scared away potential investment dollars—something we have reported in the Dig for two-plus years. Screw the Globe through; for a picture of just how ugly a situation we are facing, you’ll want to read Shira Schoenberg on MassLive:
According to projections in a report released March 1, the fund that operates the medical marijuana program is expected to take in $1.74 million this fiscal year, which includes a surplus from last year. The money comes primarily from registration and renewal fees from dispensaries and patients. Dispensaries must pay $50,000 a year to operate, while patients pay $50 annually …
In fiscal year 2014, which ended in June, the fund had a surplus of approximately $400,000, which rolled over into 2015. That year, the program raised $3.8 million, mostly from application fees, while recording expenses of $3.4 million. Most of that spending went to outside consultants for things like background checks and application scoring and to building an online registration system to track patients and caregivers.
That’s not all. There may be a smidgen of good news as well. the DPH’s new commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel, with support from Governor Charlie Baker announced that the DPH licensing process would be “aggressively revamped.” Her words: “What we have in place now is a confusing, overly lengthy process that has delayed appropriate patients from getting access.”
The following weekend, Mass Patients Advocacy Alliance Deputy Director Nichole Snow sought out Governor Baker at a public appearance in Salem. He seemed to remember her name, she says, as well as the name of her group. “I told him that we are in the process of scheduling a meeting with him and a couple of our patients,” Snow wrote on social media. “Then I gave him my card.”
“I am so sorry,” the governor told the advocate. “I don’t know why they did the licensing that way.”