3 Selected to Dispense Medical Marijuana in R.I.

Rhode Island is one of four states that has authorized state-regulated marijuana dispensaries.

The long-awaited decision on medical marijuana dispensaries was announced Tuesday afternoon with the Department of Health selecting three applicants, the maximum permitted under state law. They are: Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick, The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, and Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth.

The selections Tuesday were made from among 18 applicants which proposed dispensary operations of various sizes, mostly in the metropolitan area, to serve the state's growing number of state-licensed medical marijuana users who now must either grow the marijuana themselves or connect with a licensed individual grower or caregiver.

The Health Department was initially scheduled to make a dispensary decision in the summer of 2010, then rejected an earlier group of applicants. The department collected the 18 new applications in the fall.

Dr. Seth Bock, Greenleaf's chief executive officer, said he was humbled that his herbal medicine center was chosen.

"First of all, I'm very honored," he said. "I really look forward to bringing medicine to people," on Aquidneck Island.

Bock said he hopes to begin selling marijuana to patients in late June or early July. Greenleaf would be the smallest dispensary operation of the three nonprofit corporations chosen. It projects serving about 300 to 350 patients within three years, but will have the capability of serving many more if necessary.

Currently, there are 317 registered patients in Newport/Bristol County out of nearly 3,300 statewide.

Summit and Slater projected in their applications serving a much larger number of patients.

Summit projects having 1,600 patients this year; 4,500 in 2012, and 8,000 in 2013. Those projections are based on a significant growth in medical marijuana program. With the growth will come big money — Summit anticipates bringing in $24.7 million and having 80 employees by year three.

Right now, there are 623 patients in Warwick, West Warwick and Coventry.

The Summit organization is run by Mark J. Bergeron, who serves as president, medical manager and privacy manager, but the big name associated with the business venture is Cuttino Mobley, a 10-year veteran of the National Basketball Association and former standout player at the University of Rhode Island.

Mobley, who retired from the NBA in 2008 and lives in Los Angeles, is the sole financier of Summit. He has agreed to extend the group a $3.5-million line of credit to get the business up and running. He issued a statement saying, "I am very excited that Summit will have the opportunity to become something very special and unique to patients in the state of Rhode Island. I look forward to spending much more time in Rhode Island in order to see the concept of wellness being promoted, and to be in a position to give back to the local community."

Mobley also praised Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian for his "openmindedness and support," of Summit's proposal.

Bergeron, in a separate statement, said the dispensary will open in early June, but marijuana will not be sold until September.

"We have a lot to do in terms of build out and permitting," he said.

The Thomas C. Slater center originally planned to operate its dispensary and cultivation site on Harris Avenue by Federal Hill, but encountered neighborhood opposition and moved its proposed site to the North End.

The group's application also predicts a steady climb in patients and Slater's income rising from $1.4 million this year to $3.9 million in 2013.

Chris Reilly, Slater's spokesman, said that Slater could open for business in "about four months."

"We are pleased that the Department of Health has selected our proposal to operate a compassion center in Rhode Island," said Reilly in a statement. "While gratified that our plans have been viewed favorably within the department, we are more pleased that patients will soon have a place to receive the high quality medicine they deserve."

Summit Medical Compassion Center, RISummit Medical Compassion Center, RIThe centers will grow indoors the marijuana they sell at prices in the range of $300 to $350 an ounce. Discounts will be offered to the indigent, veterans and those suffering from incurable cancer during the last months of their lives.

The amount of marijuana the dispensary operators are allowed by the state to grow will be based on the number of medical marijuana patients they register. Each patient can have up to two caregivers or sources of marijuana.

The Slater application included plans for spending $3,700 monthly on advertising to attract patients. Providence County has 1,781 licensed patients.

JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, was thrilled that the state finally selected three dispensaries. "It's been a long time coming and we are overjoyed to finally have compassion centers," Leppanen said. "We have hundreds of patients that need medicine."

She said she hopes the dispensaries work closely with the state's 2,077 licensed caregivers, or private growers of medical marijuana. They can grow up to 24 marijuana plants and provide cannabis to up to five patients.

Leppanen said she has a patient with multiple sclerosis who needs edible marijuana products to help her with her condition. She said that the woman could turn to a dispensary for the food product that is currently not readily available in Rhode Island. She said that she's confident that the three centers selected will put the patients' needs first.

"These three [entities] clearly have impressive applications and we look forward to working with them," she said. "We are going to have challenges, but this can be a really well-run program."

Colorado and New Mexico have operating state authorized dispensaries; the first Maine dispensary is scheduled to open this month.

- Article orginaly published in The Providence Journal.

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