By: Michael J. Simpson
“[Personal residential marijuana cultivation] explicitly excludes a caregiver cardholder growing marijuana for a patient cardholder, as such use is prohibited under this zoning ordinance.”
This is the language present in the zoning ordinance up for proposal at the Wednesday meeting of the Planning Board at the Middletown Town Hall at 6PM. It explicitly prohibits, through a blanket ban in all zones, a medical marijuana caregiver from growing the medicine for a patient, and from any future compassion centers, from operating within the town limits. These town officials, perhaps unaware of the consequences of their actions, are actively working against citizens afflicted with debilitating illnesses.
The state of Rhode Island allows for doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients for a variety of illnesses including epilepsy, Crohn’s disease and Alzheimer’s. A more recent addition added post-traumatic stress to the list. Each of these illnesses have symptoms that effectively immobilize the patient, making it very difficult for them to drive to a local compassion center, let alone properly cultivate a medicinal-grade plant. If you as a citizen care about patients’ rights in your local municipality, please come voice your concern at the meeting this Wednesday.
The proposal on the agenda, item 3.B, is titled “Request of the Town Council for an advisory recommendation on proposed zoning ordinance amendments to regulate the cultivation, distribution and sale of marijuana.” It made its way to the Planning Board after the Town Council decided that they would need an advisory opinion. The original proposal was part of a pair of ordinances, billed as a ‘multipronged effort’, initiated by a request of the council for the administrator and solicitor to “work on adding provisions to our ordinances which would provide the town the ability to manage any changes in the laws related to medical or recreational marijuana within the state and also within the town.”
The first proposal dealt with licensing and permits by the town, and worked torestrict state-licensed medical marijuana patients’ access to their doctor-recommended medicine. It was initially passed with thirty-six seconds of discussion. After word spread that the proposal was passed, several citizens, including myself, were concerned enough to encourage the council to reconsider the proposal, which they did, at the September 6th meeting.
That meeting, however, culminated with a unanimous decision to continue the restrictions, and these words by the Council President Robert Sylvia; “Until the state of Rhode Island legalizes marijuana and as long as I’m sitting up here, it will never be available in this town.” President Sylvia seemingly ignores the fact that medical marijuana and its use and distribution has been legalized by the state for over ten years. He also ignores a 2012 Public Policy Polling poll that placed the percentage of registered Rhode Island voters who supported the medical marijuana law in place at seventy-seven percent, with some voting groups’ support as high as eighty-one percent. And yet, Sylvia and other members of the Middletown Town Council, are still actively working against the medical marijuana patients of the Town of Middletown.
They are not the only political body moving on this issue; West Greenwich, Bristol andTiverton have all in the last year attempted similar proposals that work to restrict access to medical marijuana through zoning ordinances. Upon review of these other proposals, however,Middletown, by far, has the most restrictive. While the West Greenwich and Bristol ordinances allow for future compassion centers in specific zones, both Middletown and Tiverton ban them outright. Middletown’s ordinance goes even further to explicitly prohibit state-licensed caregivers from growing medical marijuana for their state-licensed patients within the town limits.
During the discussion in Tiverton at the March 28th Town Council meeting, Councilman Brett Pelletier made the excellent point that restricting caregivers further burdens patients who are already disabled by their illnesses. Considering that the American Legion, one of the country’s largest veteran groups in the country, recently called on the United States Congress to reschedule marijuana so that it can be recommended to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress, it is absolutely ludicrous that our Town Council and others in the state, would actively be working against our vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. These are men and women who have bravely served our country, and who have been recommended a medicine by their doctor for their illness that was triggered by this service. It is their right to have access to that medicine.
This proposal creates an undue burden and limits access to a medicine that works for patients of varying illnesses, many of which disable those afflicted. Those affected by diseases like epilepsy, Crohn’s and Alzheimer’s certainly shouldn’t be forced to get behind the wheel of a car to go obtain their medicine, especially when the state specifically provides them with an avenue of care from a caregiver who personalizes the medicine and delivers in regular intervals to the patient.
During the last Planning Board meeting, when this proposal was brought up, Planning Board Chair Art Weber noted that there would be lots of public discussion on this issue. This was certainly true of the September 4th Town Council meeting, where the public comments on the reconsideration of the licensing and permits ordinance occupied more than an hour of the meeting’s time. Chairman Weber then proposed that a committee be formed to properly educate not only the Planning Board, but also the Town Council on this incredibly important issue.
I ask you as informed citizens to come this Wednesday at 6PM to let the Planning Board know that, considering the range of illnesses that patients have that are recommended this medicine, access to medical marijuana should not be restricted, and that the best step, moving forward, is for everyone involved in legislation surrounding this medicine, to properly educate and inform themselves on the issue before creating more obstacles for already-burdened patients.