By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News
The first medical marijuana compassion center is up and running, but due to a snafu at the Department of Health, there are still more than 200 patients who are unable to receive their medicine.
In order to receive the drug, patients must first obtain a prescription from their doctor, and then obtain a medical marijuana card from the state. The card costs $100. After that, patients must register with a compassion center
The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence is the state’s first, fully-operational dispensary, but since it opened, WPRO has received complaints from patients who are still unable to take advantage of the center’s services. Some say they have been waiting a month to get final approval from HEALTH and subsequently purchase marijuana from Slater.
Even patients that filled out their registration forms as early as March have still not been approved by the state; one man, who wished to remain anonymous, said numerous calls to HEALTH have not yielded more information or results.
To date, HEALTH says 493 forms have been processed, but an estimated 250 are still pending.
“We’ve had people that have called us to inquire about the status of their paperwork, and we can’t give them any guidance,” said Chris Reilly, spokesman for the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center. The center opened in mid-April.
UPDATE: Reilly told WPRO Tuesday afternoon that he and other members from the Slater Compassion Center met with members of HEALTH Friday. HEALTH advised them that all patients should allow for a four-week processing period of their paperwork.
Without HEALTH’s express permission, patients cannot even set foot into a compassion center. And while patients cannot get their drug – which is typically used for pain management and also to stimulate the appetite for patients on chemo – the compassion centers are losing out on business. So until HEALTH processes the forms, the compassion centers’ hands are tied.
According to HEALTH, there is one woman working full time on the forms, but sources tell WPRO that the woman assigned to processing the paperwork has other duties that take up the majority of her time.
“We understand that the health department is short staffed, there’s lot of paperwork that they’ve been receiving within this program,” said Reilly.
A spokeswoman for HEALTH said the backup is due in part to the fact that some people already have two caregivers listed; in Rhode Island, that’s the maximum amount. HEALTH has to take extra time with these forms to make a change to the caregivers listed, instead of simply adding one.
According to a report from the Providence Journal, early estimates showed that compassion centers could generate more than $1 million annually for the state.
As it is, the fees for caregivers and patients go straight into the state’ general fund; that’s not even taking into consideration the tax associated with the sale of medical marijuana.
It’s still unclear when the second dispensary will open – Greenleaf Compassion Center in Portsmouth has been green lighted, but it’s ultimately up to them to decide when to open their doors.
“It wouldn't surprise me to see some back up when a new center opens,” said Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman for Health. “Particularly if the department receives many…forms all at once.”