Rhode Island's Medical Marijuana Law Causes Confusion

Posted originally for Providence, R.I. NBC affiliate and written by Katie Davis

Enforcement of Rhode Island’s Medical Marijuana Program is causing frustration and confusion for both police and patients.

Two people were arrested Thursday for possession of at least 180 pot plants at a former church in West Warwick. They said they were within their rights under the state’s Medical Marijuana Program.

But police disagree.

“I think everyone would like to see some more clarification on the law,” said Peter Hanney of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Hanney said there’s nothing in the law to keep multiple patients and caregivers from growing marijuana at the same location. And nowhere in the law does it specify how many people can grow at one street address.

The law does limit each patient to 12 plants and each caregiver to 24 plants. So a person acting as both a patient and caregiver would be limited to 36 plants.

George DesRoches is both a patient and a caregiver, sharing a grow site in Providence with one other licensee.

“I always recommend to stay at least 10 below your numbers, in case there’s ever a gray area or an issue or a question,” DesRoches said.

But how many plants can be grown at one site is just part of the problem.

State police said there’s no simple way for them to check who has a license.

“Without that ability to check through the Department of Health, it makes it very difficult for law enforcement. You will see that resources are lost as a result of not being able to make those checks,” Capt. David Neill of the Rhode Island State Police.

State police would like the law to be updated so officers can check the list of patients.

DesRoches said that would violate medical privacy laws. But he admits it puts officers in a tough spot.

“If they’re curious about the situation, that is not proper probable cause to look into someone’s medical records. Does that handcuff them? Yes. Does that make it difficult? Yes,” DesRoches said.

There’s no specific agency in charge of enforcing medical marijuana laws. That’s something both police and patients would like to see.

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