On Monday, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee announced an indefinite hold on the licensing of three new medical marijuana dispensaries, pending consultation with governors in other states where medical marijuana has been allowed, and with federal authorities.

His decision was prompted by a letter delivered last Friday, in which U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha informed the governor that while the federal government would not prosecute individual medical marijuana users, dispensaries could be targeted as criminal operations for growing and/or distributing cannabis. Neronha’s letter also warned of the possibility of federal seizures of marijuana from dispensaries.

The governors of other states with licensed medical marijuana dispensaries received similar letters.

In a statement to the press, Governor Chafee said, “”Friday’s letter makes it clear that DOJ [Department of Justice] will now pursue certain commercial cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, even if such cultivation and distribution is permitted by state law.”

The three Rhode Island “compassion centers” had hoped to receive their final approval from the state in order to open this summer, pending building inspections and satisfactory employee background checks. One of them, the Portsmouth-based Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, had a planned opening date of this August.

According to Greenleaf CEO Seth Bock, this dispensary plans to support growing and dispensary operations on-site. The building permit, which allows for planned renovations, was approved on Monday, but Bock has decided to postpone the work until the legal issues are resolved.

Despite being “disapponted” by Governor Chafee’s decision to put a hold on permits for such businesses, Bock has said that he understands that caution is necessary, and that he hopes the governor’s consultation with the leadership of other states leads to a permanent solution.

Bock, who is a doctor of acupuncture, told the press, “I certainly didn’t get into this to spend time behind bars, but we’re not going to throw in the towel. Maybe this will be the turning point when enough people rise up and say this is ridiculous and needs to change.”

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