For those of you who might have missed it, Rhode Island is poised to become one of only six states that have decriminalized medical marijuana dispensaries for the cultivation and distribution of the herb, and Aquidneck Island-based Dr. Seth Bock, who owns and operates the Newport Acupuncture and Wellness Spa in Middletown, is one of 15 applicants vying for one-to-three licenses that the state is expected to issue soon. If approved, Bock intends to open the non-profit entity at 200 Highpoint Ave., Unit B-6, under the proposed name "Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center."
Bock, 37, is well over 6-feet-tall, slim and fit, a strikingly handsome and articulate man reminiscent of Jon Hamm, the actor who portrays the character Don Draper on the popular television period drama "Mad Men." But it's Bock's background in medical research ethics, oncology treatment and Chinese medicine that is most impressive with respect to his plan to bring a compassion center - Rhode Island's somewhat curious appellation for a licensed marijuana cultivation and dispensary facility - to Portsmouth. His career has included stints as the manager of Regulatory Affairs for the Department of Interventional Cardiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, as well work with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, both in Boston.
"Chinese medicine, which dates back over 2,000 years, brings me in contact with over 400 herbal remedies on a daily basis," said Bock. "Marijuana is part of that pharmacopeia, and having witnessed its efficacy in clinical settings countless times, it's a no-brainer that I would seek to provide my patients, under state-approved conditions, something that could help them."
For the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, Bock has assembled a highly credible team of established professionals with diversely qualified backgrounds, including Dr. David Cunningham, a family practice physician and former board chair of the Newport Hospital; Richard Radebach, president of the Wellness Company, a non-profit medical services provider that administers programs for the Rhode Island Department of Health; and Dennis Reid, a licensed pharmacist and medical technician.
Greenleaf's horticulture specialist is currently a caregiver for the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Program (RIMMP). Caregivers are legally entitled to manufacture or possess medical marijuana in order to provide it to patients.
It's been three years since Rhode Island first decriminalized marijuana for the treatment of certain chronic or debilitating conditions. Among them, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Hepatitis C, Crohn's disease, and severe pain and nausea. Rhode Island law provides exemption from state and local criminal prosecution for patients or caregivers with a Medical Marijuana Program identification card, as long as the patients and caregivers remain within the limits for quantity of marijuana under the state law.
Presently, those limits are possession or distribution of no more than two and a half ounces, no more than 12 mature marijuana plants, and no more than 12 immature marijuana plants. The current law also states that no person may have more than two caregivers, and no caregiver can have more than 24 mature plants, 12 seedlings and five ounces of marijuana, regardless of the number of patients.
Trouble is, for patients attempting to gain access to marijuana for medicinal purpose, do-it-yourself cultivation is no easy task. And acquiring it can be even more difficult, shrouded in secrecy, or, given issues of security, can even put one's life at risk. Such was the case this past April, when a licensed caregiver and medical marijuana patient living in Providence shot and killed an intruder who had broken into his apartment in an apparent attempt to steal his harvest. The new law, the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, is intended to change all that, with regulations and provisions for who, where, how much, for whom, and under what secure conditions, caregivers operating compassion centers can provide medical marijuana to patients in need.
Seth Bock, who, given his professional training, has observed the medical, ethical and sociopolitical ramifications of medical marijuana from a distinct vantage point, has also witnessed the issue from a deeply personal perspective. Bock's aunt, struggling with cancer over the course of 10 years, one of two family members who eventually succumbed to the disease, used marijuana illegally as a palliative for debilitating pain, nausea and physical wasting brought on by her illness and prolonged chemotherapy treatment. At the time there were no legal programs for the prescription, usage, supply or demand of medical marijuana.
"The medicinal benefits of marijuana extended my aunt's life years beyond what would have otherwise been her outcome," said Bock. "If others can benefit by gaining safe access to this simple, relatively non-toxic substance, there is absolutely no fear-based reason to deny them. It is both medically and ethically the right course of action."