Smithfield to pay $30K to settle pot lawsuit, will create new ordinance

Smithfield to pay $30K to settle pot lawsuit, will create new ordinance

SMITHFIELD – The Smithfield Town Council will schedule a public hearing on Sept. 17 to make amendments to the town’s marijuana zoning ordinance following the settlement of a 2017 Rhode Island Superior Court decision against the “restrictive” ordinance.

The decision to settle was made on July 2 after a two-year legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, where Jane Doe I and II, both Smithfield residents, argued that the ordinance tramples on protection and rights afforded under the state’s medical marijuana law and imposed burdens on patients’ access to treatment.

The town agreed to pay $30,000 in attorney fees to the plaintiffs and will change the ordinance to conform to state law, according to Town Solicitor Anthony Gallone.

He said the town will pay $20,000 in fees, while the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust, which insures the town, will pay $10,000. He said Town Manager Randy Rossi worked hard with the group to negotiate a lesser payment, down from $60,000 for the town.

“You can regulate medical marijuana, but you need to regulate in a way consistent with state law,” Gallone said.

He said the town will now correct the offending ordinance, beginning with the Sept. 17 public hearing where portions of the ordinance will be changed to comply with state law.

“The bottom line from the town’s perspective is to move forward and draft an ordinance that is consistent with state law,” Gallone said.

He said another hearing with the Planning Board, which approved the repeal of the ordinance during the June 20 meeting, is planned in late August to approve a new ordinance.

Gallone said he will work with the council to write a new ordinance, then hold a public hearing with public comment before the council will take a vote.

According to the ACLU, the violating ordinance “imposed a number of onerous constraints 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.”

The Town Council passed the ordinance in April 2017, and it quickly became labeled by opponents as the strictest local marijuana law in the state.

Smithfield’s discarded medical marijuana ordinance restricted the number of plants to two mature plants and two seedlings, only at the patient’s primary residence, contrary to state law allowing for 12 mature plants and giving guidelines on where it can be grown.

The ACLU further argued the ordinance “completely barred caregivers from growing medical marijuana elsewhere in town, and violates confidentiality rights when asking for patients to disclose their identity.

Superior Court Judge Richard Licht previously issued an injunction against the town enforcing its medical marijuana ordinance in September 2017. He wrote in his decision that the ordinance caused irreparable harm to medical marijuana cardholders.

Representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, attorney C. Alexander Chiulli said he was pleased with the decision to respect the rights of medical marijuana patients.

“This settlement reflects the right outcome for a clearly unlawful and unsubstantiated ordinance that should never have been enacted,” Chiulli said.