NJ, RI Hold Back Multi-Million Dollar Marijuana Centers

6/8/2011 – There are nine state-approved medical cannabis facilities prepared to open on the east coast. They have veritable dream-teams of expert staffers and some have tens of millions of dollars ready to invest. But Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are holding them back.

The six in NJ and three in RI have already been approved by state authorities after a tough bidding process. On paper, they are the most heavily regulated and carefully vetted marijuana centers in the country.  But a perceived threat of federal law has given pause to the two governors.

“We received what I consider to be a clear communication that the current compassion center program would be a violation of federal law,” said Claire Richards Chief Legal Officer for RI Gov. Chaffee.

Richards is referring to a letter from US Attorney Peter Neronha that was hand-delivered in April.  Days later, Chafee announced a hold on issuing the Certificates of Registration to the dispensaries.

New Jersey has received no communication from any federal official about medical marijuana. Not to be left out, NJ Attorney General Paula Dow has sent two letters requesting clarification from the Department of Justice on April 22nd and May 23rd. But there has been no reply.

Governor Christie and his policy office have stated that NJ will not move forward until a federal clarification has been issued. New Jersey has no provisions for home cultivation by patients; they are forced into the central system of Alternative Treatment Centers. So far, not a single patient has been registered.

Freedomisgreen.com spoke via telephone with potential facility operators in RI and NJ.  Neither would go on record with details but both expressed frustration at the current situation. Each took time to re-affirm their commitment to endure the process and eventually go into operation.

Rhode Island Rep. Scott Slater took several local patients to meet with Governor Chafee on June2nd – the same day US attorney General Eric Holder was in Providence for an unrelated visit.  Holder was cornered by the media who were asking nothing but cannabis questions. The Providence Journal reported Holder’s seemingly off-the-cuff statement:

“We are in the process of working these issues with the U.S. attorney for Rhode Island and other U.S. attorneys across the country,” he said.”My hope is that something in the not too distant future …. will be addressed.” read full

The quote sent hopeful waves through the medical cannabis community around the country. But was it enough to lift the hold on RI dispensaries? Nope.

“We were heartened to hear it,” said Claire Richards at Gov. Chaffee’s office. “Right now we are still waiting to see what he will say.”

The Garden State also seems content to wait for the federal Godot.  Messages left today at the press office for the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services inquiring about the status of the program went unanswered. Presumably the NJ hold also remains in effect.

It remains unclear as to why the two states are waiting for a federal blessing to proceed. The compassionate use measures were debated for several years in their respective legislatures. Elected officials were fully aware of the inherent conflict with federal policy when they passed the laws. But it may take unprecedented tolerance from the USDOJ in order to get these nine medical cannabis centers off of paper and into practice.

Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions?  [email protected]

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