2013-09-12 / Front Page

Cannabis Center Seeks Expansion of Medical Services

By Esther Trneny

Dr. Seth Bock is the founder of Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center. (Photo by Esther Trneny) Dr. Seth Bock is the founder of Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center. (Photo by Esther Trneny) Acupuncturist Dr. Seth Bock had a dream four years ago–literally. In the dream, he was opening a center for compassionate care, to provide cannabis to people suffering from cancer and other debilitating illnesses. Upon waking, Bock discovered that the morning’s headline in the Providence Journal was about compassionate care centers. Bock felt it was a strong sign about the direction he needed to be moving in and began a four-year journey that culminated on June 1 of this year, when he opened Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, on West Main Road, in Portsmouth.

With a degree from the New England School of Acupuncture and a background in medical research, regulatory affairs, and ethics in cancer care, Bock was the ideal person to withstand the four years of rigorous scrutiny and often tedious processes necessary to obtain one of only three permits from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) to provide cannabis to those with a medical need.

One of the things that sustained Bock, and inspired him in his efforts, was the memory of his two aunts who passed away from cancer. Bock said one of his aunts used cannabis to help offset the side effects of the treatment for her illness, and he believes it allowed her to endure more rounds of chemotherapy, which ultimately helped her to live for 12 years after her diagnosis.

While medical research clearly shows advantages to using cannabis to offset the side effects of cancer treatment, for too long, cancer sufferers had to resort to illegal and sometimes dangerous ways to obtain the drug, he noted.

Bock said there are risks involved in buying cannabis from an unregulated source – the drug may have high levels of toxic chemicals, the strength of the cannabis may not be consistent, and it brings the buyer into situations that may increase personal danger. One of Bock’s goals in opening his center was to decrease those risks to his patients and to the community at large. Greenleaf’s mission states that it is a

"non-profit organization dedicated to providing registered medical marijuana patients with high-quality medicine at an affordable rate,” and Bock said his center purchases cannabis only from a small group of “qualified and trustworthy caregivers.” Caregivers are licensed growers who submit to regulations and oversight to ensure their product is safe and used only by those with a permit for medical cannabis use.

Bock said his center routinely sends samples to a lab in Providence to test for potency and the presence of any pesticides. He also checks the conditions at each grow site to ensure the cannabis is grown to exacting standards, even assessing soil quality. Bock said they don’t want their patients to receive anything that may have high levels of mercury or other toxic chemicals (mercury will leach into plants when growers use fish meal as fertilizer).

“Lots of people can’t grow cannabis for themselves, so I want to be able to provide medicine that is safe,” said Bock.

“I think the most important thing for people to know is that we are striving to have the highest standards for quality of care and for the product we provide,” he said.

As part of that commitment to providing safe medicine to patients who may be struggling with significant health issues, Bock recently applied to the RIDOH for a permit to offer home delivery.

Bock said many of his patients find it difficult to drive due to illness and may have trouble finding someone to drive them to the center, so home delivery is an option that would provide even better service to those in need of care or assistance.

Marijuana Policy Project

Just two weeks ago, the Justice Department announced it would not challenge voter-approved laws regulating the growth and sale of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, and this week the reform group, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), announced its goal to end marijuana prohibition in Rhode Island and nine other states by 2017.

The MPP stated that they will continue working with state lawmakers and local advocates to pass legislation in Rhode Island that would tax and regulate marijuana and make it legal for adults in a manner similar to alcohol. Rhode Island passed a law to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in June of 2012.

A January 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 52% of Rhode Island voters support making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and taxing and regulating its sales similarly to alcohol. Forty-one percent of voters were opposed and 7% were undecided.

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