With voters preparing to cast their ballots on the issue of medical marijuana this fall, a look at the proposed legislation reveals concerns over whether the federal government will let the policy stand.
Question 3, if passed, would remove state penalties for using marijuana medicinally and create regulations for distribution centers seeking to sell to patients.
However, federal penalties could still prove problematic for distributors.
A Rhode Island Case Study
Question 3 outlines a variety of regulations on the distributors selling the marijuana, which include that only 35 distributors will be licensed across the state, distributors must be non-profits and they can only grow a 120-day supply per customer.
The per customer grow model was previously adopted by Rhode Island when it passed its legislation legalizing medical marijuana in 2009 and caused the federal government to crack down.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island threatened to shut down three “compassion centers” before they even opened, citing concerns about large, for-profit distribution operations.
“The way it was presented at the time, we were concerned over the potential for millions of dollars in profit that could be made at these large distribution centers,” said Jim Martin, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island. “We don’t care if they’re non-profit or not, there was the potential for a large profit to be made.”
Rhode Island recently passed compromise legislation limiting the number of plants a distribution center can grow to 24 or five ounces.
Rhode Island attorney Marc Gertsacov, who represented a compassion center applicant after the law initially passed, said the U.S. Attorney’s reaction came as a complete surprise.
“They were worried that large operations would be a target for burglaries and could be used to sell outside of the licensed operations,” Gertsacov said.
Problems in Massachusetts
Distributors could face the same threats from the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts without stricter regulations on the number of marijuana plants that can be grown.
“Individuals and organizations who are in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, will be in violation of federal law and be subject to federal enforcement,” reads a statement from U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.
A spokesperson from Ortiz’s office would not comment on how large a distribution center could have to be before they would take action against it.
“Federal law unambiguously makes it unlawful to grow, distribute, or possess marijuana other than as part of a federally authorized research program,” Ortiz’s statement reads. “Congress has determined… that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in the United States and has not been determined to be safe and effective by federal health authorities.”
The statement did say the department would not spend “its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment program in compliance with state law.