House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill
Thursday, May 3, 2007
PROVIDENCE, RI -- With two months to spare, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted yesterday to make permanent a law that legalizes marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill today -- and is expected to approve it easily.
Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana last year; since then New Mexico has passed similar legislation. However, Rhode Island's pioneering move had an expiration date. The law has a built-in sunset clause for June 30, unless legislators make it permanent.
Governor Carcieri will likely veto the bill, for the same reasons that he vetoed it last year, said his spokesman, Jeff Neal. While the state law legalizes marijuana possession for authorized caregivers and patients with doctors' approval, the only way to actually get the seeds or plants is to buy it illegally.
That was the heart of the passionate debate on the House floor yesterday, before representatives voted 50 to 12 to approve the bill.
No one questioned whether patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and other debilitating illnesses found pain relief from smoking marijuana. Several legislators said they'd gotten letters and e-mails from patients who told them that marijuana helped relieve their suffering in ways that traditional medicine hadn't.
Yet, some questioned supporting a bill that legalized an illegal drug.
North Kingstown Rep. Laurence W. Ehrhardt held a police report from his town about a man who was arrested after using his MySpace page to lure teenage girls to smoke marijuana with him. The man was registered to have medical marijuana -- although his alleged possession of 72 plants was well over the allowed limit.
Ehrhardt said he voted for the bill last year, but not again. "I cannot face the parents in my district with a straight face and support it," he said.
Warwick Rep. Joseph Trillo called it bad legislation, and accused the General Assembly of trying to act as medical doctors, when the Food and Drug Administration hadn't approved marijuana. That brought Providence Rep. Steven M. Costantino to his feet. Legal prescription drugs, like Oxycontin and Vicodin, pose a greater threat than medical marijuana when they're sold on the street, he argued, and sarcastically called the FDA "that guiding light."
"This is about giving people with cancer, with HIV, with any diseases that involve the wasting away of the human body -- that they have dignity in their life," Costantino said.
The bill's sponsor, Providence Rep. Thomas C. Slater, who has cancer, pleaded for legislators' support. There is pain and suffering from these illnesses that legal modern medicine doesn't relieve, he said. "Please don't take this law from the people who need it," Slater said, his voice rising.
The current law is named for Slater and for Edward O. Hawkins, the nephew of Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, who died of AIDS. The bill removes the repeal and doubles the amount of marijuana that caregivers can have on hand, as well as makes some changes to the information on the patient's identification card.
Under the current law, the caregivers, who register with the Department of Health, may supply up to five patients and possess 12 marijuana plants and 2 1/2 ounces of usable marijuana for each patient. Anyone with a felony drug conviction is barred from becoming a primary caregiver.
The bill doubles the amount of marijuana the caregiver can possess, to 24 marijuana plants and 5 ounces of usable marijuana, for his or her qualifying patients. The bill also requires the Health Department to report on the medical-marijuana program every odd-numbered year to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Already, there are 257 Rhode Islanders who are registered to use medical marijuana. Medical studies have been issued, as recently as a few months ago, that show marked relief for people suffering from chronic debilitating diseases.
And that's what won over most of the legislators. "This law may be imperfect, but it helps a lot of people in need," said Providence Rep. John J. DeSimone.
Copyright The Providence Journal Company.
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A hotbed of cannabis activism, Washington State is home to many organizations working to bring about rational drug policy. Here are some things to get involved with:
Cannabis Defense Coalition has been very active lately. They focus on courtroom observation and medical marijuana activism.
The November Coalition, based in Colville, is a national reform group and works with prisoners and families.
SpoCannabis is a medical marijuana activist group in Spokane.
King Co. Bar Association Drug Policy Project has done amazing work educating the "suits" about the failure of our prohibition model of drug policy, and the need for a regulatory model of drug policy.
Seattle Hempfest is the third weekend in August on Seattle's waterfront.
Olympia Hempfest is a week after Seattle's big bash.