The Department of Justice

US Department of Justice
United States Attorney General
District of Rhode Island

Fleet Center
50 Kennedy Plaza, 8th Floor
Providence, Rhode Island 02903

April 29, 2011


The Honorable Lincoln D. Chafee
Governor of the State of Rhode Island
222 State House
Providence, RI 02903-1196

Re: Medical Marijuana

Dear Governor Chafee:

I write regarding the Rhode Island Department of Health’s recent notification to three Rhode Island entities, the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, Inc, the Summit Medical Compassion Center, Inc., and the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, Inc., that their applications to operate medical marijuana “compassion centers” have been approved pursuant to the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, R.I.G.L. 21-28.6-1, et seq.  (the Act). It is my understanding that each of these three entities now await the issuance of a “registration certificate” by the Department of Health authorizing their operation.

I now write to ensure that there is no confusion regarding the United States Department of Justice’s view of state-sanctioned schemes that purport to regulate the manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana.

As the Department has stated on many occasions, Congress has determined that marijuana is a controlled substance. Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and, as such, growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities.

The prosecution of individuals and organizations involved in the trade of any illegal drugs and the disruption of drug trafficking organizations is a core priority of the Department of Justice. This core priority includes the prosecution of business enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana. Accordingly, while the Department of Justice does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law as stated in the October 2009 Memorandum of Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, the Department of Justice maintains the authority to enforce the CSA vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law. The Department’s investigative and prosecutorial resources will continue to be directed toward these objectives.

Consistent with federal law, the Department of Justice maintains the authority to pursue criminal and/or civil actions for any CSA violations whenever the Department determines that such legal action is warranted. This includes, but is not limited to, actions to enforce the criminal provisions of the CSA, such as:

  • 21 U.S.C. §841 (making it illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess with intent to distribute any controlled substance including marijuana);
  • 21 U.S.C. §856 (making it unlawful to knowingly open, lease, rent, maintain, or use property for the manufacturing, storing, or distribution of controlled substances);
  • 21 U.S.C. §860 (making it unlawful to distribute or manufacture controlled substances within 1,000 feet of schools, colleges, playgrounds, and public housing facilities, and within 100 feet of any youth centers, public swimming pools, and video arcade facilities);
  • 21 U.S.C. §843 (making it unlawful to use any communication facility to commit felony violations of the CSA); and
  • 21 U.S.C.§846 (making it illegal to conspire to commit any of the crimes set forth in the CSA).

In addition, federal money laundering and related statutes which prohibit a variety of different types of financial activity involving the movement of drug proceeds may likewise be utilized. The government may also pursue civil injunctions, and the forfeiture of drug proceeds, property traceable to such proceeds, and property used to facilitate drug violations.

The Act, the registration scheme it purports to authorize, and the anticipated operation of the three centers appear to permit large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution. Such conduct is contrary to federal law and thus, undermines the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances. Accordingly, the Department of Justice could consider civil and criminal legal remedies against those individuals and entities who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries as such actions are in violation of federal law. Others who knowingly facilitate those individuals and entities who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries, including property owners, landlords, and financiers, should also know that their conduct violates federal law. Potential actions the Department of Justice could consider include injunctive actions to prevent cultivation and distribution of marijuana and other associated violations of the CSA; civil fines; criminal prosecution; seizure of the controlled substances and seizure and forfeiture of any personal and real property used to facilitate the production and distribution of controlled substances, or that is derived from a violation of the CSA. As the Attorney General of the United States has repeatedly stated, the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to enforcing the CSA in all states.

I hope this letter provides clarification and assists the State of Rhode Island and its potential licensees in making informed decisions regarding the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana, as well as related financial transactions.


/s/ Peter F. Neronha
Peter F. Neronha
United States Attorney

cc: ​Michael Fine, M.D., Interim Director, Rhode Island Department of Health
Gerald J. McGraw, Jr., Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, Inc.
​Alan B. Weitberg, M.D., Summit Medical Compassion Center, Inc.
​Seth Bock, Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, Inc.



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