ACLU Sues Town of Smithfield Over Restrictive Medical Marijuana Ordinance

Posted: Jun, 22, 2017

In its first legal effort to counter efforts across the state to undermine the state’s medical marijuana law, the ACLU of Rhode Island today filed a lawsuit against the Town of Smithfield over a recently enacted ordinance that imposes significant burdens on medical marijuana patients’ access to treatment.  The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court, is on behalf of two licensed medical marijuana patients – listed as Jane Does to protect their confidentiality – and the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), a medical marijuana public education organization. The suit was filed as other municipalities consider adopting similar troubling restrictions on the rights of medical marijuana patients, although Smithfield’s appears to be the most egregious.

The Town’s ordinance, enacted in April, imposes a number of onerous restrictions on the possession and growth of medical marijuana, despite, and directly contrary to, stringent regulations already in place under Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law. Among other restrictions, the ordinance limits the growing of medical marijuana to two mature plants and two seedlings, and only at a patient’s primary residence, even though Rhode Island law specifically allows for the cultivation of 12 mature plants and outlines where medical marijuana can be grown. The Smithfield ordinance further undermines the rights of patients by completely barring caregivers from growing medical marijuana for them anywhere in the town. The ordinance also requires patients to disclose their identity to a number of municipal authorities, which, the suit argues, is almost certain to undermine their right to confidentiality under the law. 

ACLU of RI volunteer attorneys C. Alexander Chiulli, John Meara and Matthew Plain from the law firm of Barton Gilman LLP filed the lawsuit. The suit argues that the ordinance infringes on patients’ rights as guaranteed by state law, unlawfully threatens their “health and wellbeing,” unduly restricts access to treatment, harms patients’ privacy rights, and unjustly targets medical marijuana users – all in violation of Rhode Island state law.  The suit seeks an injunction barring Smithfield’s enforcement of the ordinance.

RIPAC director JoAnne Leppanen said today: “The Smithfield ordinance has created stress and panic among patients whose legal access to their medicine is being denied by their own town. It is as if Smithfield has declared war on some of its most vulnerable residents by enacting this ordinance.”

Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director, added: “Rhode Island law recognizes that marijuana is a legitimate and effective treatment for debilitating medical conditions and lays out stringent regulations for its lawful possession and cultivation. Smithfield’s ordinance is an obvious attempt to undermine that law and make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many of those who lawfully use medical marijuana to treat their conditions.”

Brown said that the ACLU was considering filing additional lawsuits against other municipalities with similarly restrictive ordinances in conflict with the state’s medical marijuana law.

Click here for the full text of the lawsuit.

Click here for the ACLU’s letter urging the Town not to adopt the ordinance.

Click here to for the full text of the Smithfield ordinance.