Council finds medical marijuana growers’ privacy law in conflict with code enforcement

Council finds medical marijuana growers’ privacy law in conflict with code enforcement

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RICHMOND — The Town Council, police chief and town attorney are trying to figure out a way to ensure safety in the homes of medical marijuana growers while adhering to state law that protects growers’ privacy.

The Council on Tuesday discussed a memo from Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth regarding building code enforcement on registered medical marijuana users who are growing their own marijuana at home.

Unsafe conditions such as a lack of ventilation and substandard wiring for grow lights used in such operations have been found in some growers’ homes. The problem, Ellsworth said, is that state law, specifically the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, prevents the town from taking action that might identify marijuana card-holders.

“The way that the law is right now, there’s isn’t any way that we could enforce an ordinance that would require inspections, because we don’t know who those people are, and we’re not supposed to know who they are,” she said. “There are other towns that have ordinances that require that kind of thing. They’re all going to court and they’re going to lose, because it’s a violation of the Hawkins Slater Act, basically.”

Police Chief Elwood Johnson said his officers sometimes discovered children living in hazardous conditions caused by marijuana-growing.

“We go into houses on occasion where people, they have kids there, and there are clear fire hazards,” he said. “It has happened where residences have caught fire, and we don’t want that to happen in Richmond.”

Town officials concluded that passing an ordinance would be futile because there would be no way to enforce it. They agreed  to explore ways to correct home safety issues without violating people’s privacy.

“We can enforce the code violations by means other than identifying medical marijuana users, and I believe the chief and building officials are going to get together to talk about that,” Ellsworth said.

There were several smaller items on the council’s agenda. Members approved an amendment to the town’s purchasing ordinance that brings it into compliance with recent changes to state law. Qualifications rather than price will now be the criteria for hiring professionals such as engineers and architects.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch reported that the town was close to reaching its goal of getting 120 residents to register for the Energy Challenge. A joint effort by National Grid and the non-profit group, SmartPower, a marketing firm specializing in energy efficiency, the challenge encourages homeowners to use energy more wisely. If enough residents sign up for free home energy audits the town could be awarded a grant of $10,000.

“We’re getting close, but we only have till the end of the year,” she said.

The town has also formed a volunteer Citizens’ Energy Committee to encourage energy efficiency. One of the committee’s most enthusiastic supporters is Chariho student Jessica LaFreniere.

“You might want to make her an honorary member,” Pinch said. “She’d like to come to all the meetings.”

The council approved a request from the Chariho Girls Softball League to install an electric scoreboard at the field near the greenhouse at Richmond Elementary School. League President Michael Conklin and fundraising Chair Christine Conklin said they had already raised the money to purchase the scoreboard.

“Our league is willing to fund it, do the installation, all the installation will be done to code,” Michael Conklin said. “We’ll make sure we hire people that are licensed to do so. We will fund it and maintain it as well. It would be a donation from our organization to the school.”

Johnson reminded councilors that this year’s “Stuff-A-Cruiser” toy drive will take place on Saturday at the Wyoming Job Lot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. People are asked to donate new toys which will then be delivered to Matthew’s Wish, a toy drive started last year by Richmond teen, Matthew Thayer.



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