Rhode Island dispensary pays homage to popular advocate
By Patrick Wagner
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – During his final few months of life, Thomas C. Slater was able to see his dream of medical cannabis realized in his home state of Rhode Island. Slater, a retired sergeant major for the U.S. Marine Corps and a Democratic member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, is remembered as the godfather of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program.
Slater died of lung cancer in 2009, but his memory lives on through one of the state’s original medical dispensaries that bears his name.
“He was an old marine who had a gruff exterior at times, but he really believed in patients having access to medicine that could help them,” said Chris Reilly, a spokesman for the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center. “He was a real compassionate guy who fought very hard for passage of the state’s medical marijuana law, which passed in 2006. He also pushed very rigorously for passage of an amendment to that law to create dispensaries in 2009.”
Slater was a good friend to Gerald and Liz McGraw, the owners behind the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence.
“Gerry felt very strongly about the work that Tom did and he asked the family if he could name the center in his honor and they were thrilled,” Reilly said. “It’s a tribute to a person here who did some amazing things for patients and his legacy lives on.”
The facility, commonly known as the Slater Center, has resonated with Rhode Islanders. The state requires each medical cardholder to select one of Rhode Island’s three compassion centers as their provider. According to Reilly, more than half of the medical cardholders in the state have registered with the Slater Center.
The dispensary’s popularity is likely due to the scope of services offered, patient coordinator Melissa Bouchard said.
“We’ve coined the phrase, ‘the TCS journey to wellness,’” Bouchard said. “We encourage patients to take advantage of a lot of our ancillary services.”
During that journey, patients can get a wide breadth of treatment options. Card holders can get free massages or reiki treatments by a licensed therapist. The Slater Center has a hydrotherapy bed for patients with special conditions. The center features a library so patients can check out books for their own research. Patients are also encouraged to schedule one-on-one consultations to discuss their particular conditions and the preferred methods of treatment. Classes and support groups are also offered.
“We do meditation circles, stress and pain management, cultivation courses, cooking classes, consumption classes to help teach patients about different options for ingestion,” Bouchard said. “All of those are free to our patients and to their caregivers.”
Part of the mission for the Slater Center is to create community awareness for those both within and outside of the medical cannabis community. The center opens to the public for community outreach every Tuesday afternoon, produces a monthly newsletter addressing topics ranging from different recipes, patient stories and a section that’s called “Rooted in the Community,” which covers the center’s different charity endeavors.
“We participate in different walks,” Bouchard said. “We just did a school drive. We do food drives. We certainly try to stay engaged in the community. The plan was always to support the patients and give them the best quality of life that they can have. It just took some patient feedback to learn what it is that they wanted.”
Bouchard said the McGraws designed the center to strike a balance between the clinical nature of a medical facility and the warmth and openness found in traditional New England-rooted establishments.
“I would not say that there is a Bob Marley feel to it and I would not say that there is bright fluorescent lighting like you’d find in a doctor’s office either,” Reilly said.
The ceilings are easily 20 feet high and hold glowing lanterns that line the cobblestone walls and reflect off of the hardwood floors. Old steel pillars stretch across the 3,000-square-foot dispensary floor. The cannabis products are placed on steel shelves sunken into the walls where employees wait behind marble counters. The dispensary looks as though the building has always been part of Rhode Island.
“(The patients) are really comfortable here,” Bouchard said. “A lot of the patients often remark that it feels like home.”