Portsmouth seeks revenue from medical marijuana center


PORTSMOUTH — The chief executive officer of a medical marijuana dispensary that's preparing to open on West Main Road estimates there are anywhere from 100 to 300 licensed marijuana "caregivers" in Portsmouth, many of whom pose problems for their patients.

Seth Bock, co-owner of Greenleaf Compassion Center, said his dispensary will give patients who are approved for marijuana consumption a safer choice, however. “It will do a service to the town in the long run," he said of the center.

Mr. Bock made his remarks Monday night during a Portsmouth Town Council discussion on whether a user fee or tax could be imposed on the dispensary.

Council member David Gleason proposed the idea, saying any revenues generated could be used for substance abuse programs or enforcing drug laws.

The council voted unanimously to direct Town Administrator John Klimm to ask local legislators to consider submitting a bill in the General Assembly after Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin said the town has no authority to impose such a tax or user fee from the center.

Mr. Gleason said it’s not his intention to pass judgement on the the marijuana dispensary. “If I had a debilitating illness or was in extreme pain, then I think I should have the right to obtain marijuana,” he said.

But Greenleaf isn’t a typical venture, he said, adding that few businesses “with bullet-proof glass” move into town. “Having this in our town will certainly not decrease the workload of our police department,” said Mr. Gleason.

Mr. Bock defended the marijuana dispensary, saying it will be run by qualified health-care professionals who care greatly for their patients. It will also present a safer option for qualified patients looking for medical marijuana, he said.

“From the very start of our process in applying to the state, we knew medical marijuana providers had some problems,” he said, adding that licensed caregivers “are not regulated, by and large.” They just have to be 21 or older, a Rhode Island resident and can grow wherever they get permission to do so, he said.

That leads to many problems such as home invasions, theft, drug diversions, electrical fires and other issues, said Mr. Bock, who estimated there are “100 to 300” licensed caregivers in Portsmouth alone.

“The compassion center is a method to contain and control this whole process which is why the facility is so secure,” he said, adding that the center will decrease the reliance on caregivers. Greenleaf would have to rely on some caregivers, however, because the state places a cap on the number of plants it can grow, he said. His team will work only with caregivers who are “100 percent above board," Mr. Bock said.

Council member Elizabeth Pedro said she had a hard time "wrapping my head around calling marijuana a medicine and people who grow it caregivers."

Says tax discriminatory

As for the proposed tax or user fee, Mr. Bock said they would be discriminatory since more than half of his patients are low income or on government assistance.

“It will make it really difficult for a lot of low-income people to procure the medicine they need,” he said.

Larry Fitzmorris of the group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens said he was in favor of a tax or user fee, noting that the “so-called compassion center” was imposed on the town with no input from residents.

“Instead of a tax, I’d like to see your compassion center make a sizable donation to the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition,” Council Vice President John Blaess told Mr. Bock, who said he would be agreeable to such a contribution.

Ray Davis, coordinator of the coalition, said that would cause an ethical conundrum for his group. While acknowledging that the marijuana in this case is considered medicine, he said, “It’s unacceptable for us to take a donation from Anheuser-Busch.”

Cordial chat

Outside the council chambers after the meeting, Mr. Davis and Mr. Bock chatted cordially about the dispensary. That very night, Mr. Davis had presented to the council results from a comprehensive town-wide survey about substance abuse among local youth. According to the survey, which he presented to the School Committee last month, nearly half of all high school seniors say they smoke marijuana.

When Mr. Davis said most studies he’s seen show that marijuana use goes up in communities where dispensaries open, Mr. Bock countered that a study from Brown University says otherwise.

He added that he’s a parent who shares the same concerns about illegal substance abuse as the coalition. “I’m a father and I don’t want my son to get a hold of this stuff,” he said.

Mr. Bock said he’s anticipating that the center will be open at the end of the month.

“It’s contingent upon final approval form the Department of Health, but we’re pretty close,” he said. “We’re just finishing up construction.”

Working at Greenleaf Tuesday, Mr. Bock emphasized that the center has a state-of-the-art security system, and that patients can gain entrance only by using a state-issued card.

"Medical marijuana is here — it's here to stay," he said. "We feel strongly that we have the best method of dispensing it."


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