Warren police ramping up for marijuana decriminalization

Even as Warren police continue to look for the 12 marijuana plants stolen three weeks ago from a state licensed medical marijuana grower on Arlington Avenue, they’re moving ahead and planning for next April, when a major change in the Rhode Island’s view of marijuana takes effect.

On April 1, 2013, state officials will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, a move voted for overwhelmingly by voters in the November election. Warren Police Lt. Roland Brule said Warren police have been speaking with state officials about the upcoming law change, and right now their response is simple: Uphold it.

Regardless of the fact that marijuana possession will remain illegal under federal law, Lt. Brule said Warren law enforcement plans to follow state law with respect to the drug.

“We’re going to do what the law tells us to do,” he said. “If the law says someone has the right to possess it, we’re sworn to uphold the law, and we’re going to do exactly what it tells us to do.”

That policy involves a few unknowns, he said, such as how the town will react in DUI-type cases and other questionable situations.

“If there’s a questionable area, we’re going to reach out to our attorneys at the town level and at the attorney general area.”

Until then, the only ‘legal’ marijuana is that grown or possessed by state-certified medical marijuana patients. Police were unaware of the grow operation that was broken into in late November, Lt. Brule said, because state officials do not disclose any identifying information about medical marijuana patients and caregivers to law enforcement. According to state Department of Health spokeswoman Dara Chadwick, there are 90 licensed “caregivers,” or growers in the East Bay, and 3,320 statewide.

In a recent interview, Lt. Brule suggested the state’s stance of keeping information about those in the medical marijuana program private makes it difficult to protect those patients, as “if we don’t know they’re growing it, how do we protect it?”

However, citing HIPAA, the federal health insurance act, Ms. Chadwick said the state agency charged with overseeing the program has no plans to start disclosing identifying information about medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

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