NBC 10 tours medical marijuana compassion center

Rhode Island's medical marijuana dispensaries are on the verge of opening.

The medical marijuana law was passed in 2009, but it's taken that long for law enforcement and the state Department of Health to come to an understanding of what the regulations will look like.

Licenses could be granted as early as next month for three so-called compassion centers.

"You don't get through here unless you show your ID," said Gerald McGraw of the Thomas Slater Compassion Center in Providence. NBC 10 toured the facility Tuesday.

The security will be tight. The decor will be like a doctor's office combined with a restaurant.

"One of the things that we're looking to do, too, is hand out tablets and people can actually sit there and look through the menu and place an order on the tablet and go to an express window," McGraw said.

But the products on the menu are lifesaving to people like Ellen Lenox-Smith.

"Medical marijuana is the first thing that's helped me with pain that I can metabolize. I can't take aspirin, Tylenol, any of the opiates that people with my condition would normally be on," Lenox-Smith said.

Her condition of deteriorating joints caused so much pain that she couldn't sleep, which could have been fatal. As it is she's still very limited.

"This has given me a life back and it's given me a chance to do things with my life again. It's not going to cure me but it's taken the edge off so I can be productive," Lenox-Smith said.

This dispensary also is an indoor garden where up to 99 plants will be grown. It can also resell marijuana provided by some of the caretakers licensed by the state.

Tightly controlled by the state Health Department, Rhode Island's regulations are much more stringent than other states that legalized medical marijuana years ago.

"I think the law is done right. I think we will have probably the best law in the country, that's the way I see it. We're not growing too many plants. We're enabling patients to grow their own plants," McGraw said.

The Thomas Slater center hopes to serve up to 500 patients. About 4,000 individuals in Rhode Island are licensed to use medical marijuana.