A decade after Rhode Island became the 11th state (there are now 25) to allow medical marijuana, a Providence Journal investigation has found a venture born from altruism has evolved virtually unchecked into a multi-million dollar industry with marijuana growers, doctors, and the state itself profiting and positioning themselves for a time when recreational marijuana is legalized. What started out as a program with a few hundred patients now includes 15,470, an increase of more than 5,000 percent since 2007. Patient numbers are expected to surge again with this year’s addition of the first psychiatric condition — post-traumatic stress disorder — to the qualifying conditions.
Meanwhile, the number of people permitted to grow marijuana for those patients has exceeded 3,000. Weeding out which of these growers are complying with the state “caregiver” law and which might be abusing the program has proved almost impossible for police. Without access to the state health department’s lists of growers and patients, police don’t know which grow houses to raid and which ones to leave alone. Growers say they shouldn’t be blamed; it’s the state which has allowed these ambiguities to linger in the law.