Pubdate: Thu, 19 May 2005
Source: Pawtucket Times (RI)
Copyright: 2005 The Pawtucket Times
Author: Jim Baron
Cited: Irvin Rosenfeld
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


PROVIDENCE -- After listening to nearly two hours of often-impassioned
testimony about the medical use of marijuana, the chairman of the
House Health, Education and Welfare Committee said that
"philosophically, it is something the committee would look at," if the
proper controls could be put in place.

"That's our challenge," Chairman Joseph McNamara said after the
hearing. "Distribution, control and regulation are major issues that
have to be addressed."

McNamara said he expects to work with the state Department of Health
on some of those details in the coming weeks.

"It's bad enough when you have a devastating disease that you are
trying to fight," said Irvin Rosenfeld, one of seven patients still
receiving medical marijuana from a government program that was closed
in 1992, "and then when you find a medicine that actually works for
you, you are labeled as a criminal. It's just not right."

Holding a large silver can containing rolled marijuana cigarettes and
holding one of the cigarettes up for the committee to see during his
testimony, Rosenfeld said he smokes 11 ounces of marijuana every 25

While the use of most medical marijuana is still illegal under federal
statutes, Rosenfeld said, states have begun passing laws to make it
legal because they are telling the federal government, "we are tired
of making criminals out of our sick patients."

Rep. Thomas Slater, who introduced the bill in the House of
Representatives, agreed, calling his legislation, "a reasonable
measure that protects sick people from the possibility of arrest.

"This bill is very narrow in scope," Slater told the panel. "What it
simply does is offer protection from arrest and prosecution to
patients who use marijuana in conjunction with their doctor's

"These people are not a threat to society, and there is no reason to
have them risk going to jail."

Rep. Steven Costantino, who said he lost a brother to cancer two years
ago and a cousin to the same disease last week, said, "this is about
compassion. This is about an end of life issue that allows someone to
die in dignity. We can throw everything up in front of this
legislation to say why we shouldn't do it.

"If you have to tweak it, tweak it. If you have to fix it, fix it. But
let that patient who is in someone's home right now who is wasting
away at least have the opportunity to die in dignity."

This is how the proposed law would work: Licensed physicians would
recommend the medical use of marijuana to patients with degenerative
or crippling diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS,
epilepsy and chronic pain. The R.I. Department of Health would then
provide those patients with registration identity cards which would be
in effect for one year and renewable.

The patients, their doctors and up to two primary caregivers would
then be protected from arrest, prosecution and other penalties for
having a quantity of marijuana that does not exceed 2.5 useable ounces
or 12 plants.

The HEW committee took no vote on the bill Wednesday. The Senate
Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the Senate version of a
medical marijuana bill, sponsored by Sen. Rhoda Perry, this afternoon.

"This is not some devious attempt to legalize marijuana," said Rhonda
O'Donnell, a 42-year-old mother of two who is a registered nurse and
suffers from multiple sclerosis. She urged the lawmakers to, "Make
this a medical decision, not a political one. This is a decision that
should be between a doctor and a patient."

One of the few witnesses to speak against the bill, State Police Lt.
Leroy V. Rose, Jr. told the committee that marijuana is "a widely
abused drug in Rhode Island. Unfortunately we are number one in drug
and alcohol (traffic) fatalities. We feel that legislation would
potentially increase that, something we are not very proud of.

"Secondly, if we had someone who was using it for medical purposes and
they were involved in a fatal accident, or stopped for being impaired,
this legislation says it cannot be used in a criminal

In a letter to the committee, Department of Health Director Dr. David
Gifford said the department recognizes the potential benefit of the
active ingredient in marijuana plants in certain medical conditions,
but does not support the legislation.

How patients would access the marijuana is not addressed in the
legislation, he said and prescribing marijuana by physicians conflicts
with federal regulations. 
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