Pubdate: Wed, 04 Jan 2006
Source: Call, The (Woonsocket, RI)
Copyright: 2006 The Call
Author: Jim Baron, Special to The Call
Referenced: The Edward O. Hawkins Medical Marijuana Act
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


PROVIDENCE -- People who suffer from cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS,
and a variety of other debilitating diseases now have a new medication
option: marijuana. In a series of lopsided votes cast even before they
officially opened their 2006 sessions, the House and Senate Tuesday
overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri's vetoes of identical 2005 bills that
remove the threat of arrest, prosecution and forfeiture by state and
local authorities of people who use marijuana to relieve pain, nausea
and other symptoms as recommended by a doctor.

Advertisement "I am no longer in the position where I have to fear my
door will get busted down," Warren Dolbashian, a Cranston man with
Tourette's syndrome, told reporters at a news conference called after
the House votes. "It's like a dream come true."

Sen. Rhoda Perry, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said
she hopes the new law will be "up and functional" with rules and
regulations promulgated by the state Department of Health, within six
months. "But I'm not positive about that," she added.

Rep. Thomas Slater, the House sponsor, said he wanted DOH to get new
rules written "in the next 30 to 35 days."

The House overrode the governor's veto 59-13 on the House measure and
58-13 on the Senate bill. The override required at least 44 votes. The
Senate cast a 30-5 vote to override the veto of the House bill. It had
voted to override the veto of the Senate version last July.

The measure eliminates penalties, fines and forfeiture connected with
marijuana posession of up to 2.5 ounces for a patient (recommended by
a doctor and registered with the Department of Health) with a
"debilitating medical condition" and two principal caregivers. The law
makes no provision for a legal way to obtain the drug.

In a release issued after the vote, Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said,
"this bill will encourage criminal activity because it does not
provide any means for the legal purchase of medical marijuana.Users
will be forced to purchase marijuana in the illegal street market,
putting them at risk and complicating the difficult jobs that our law
enforcement personnel must do every day."

"The bill places no restriction over where marijuana will be
cultivated and stored," Neal continued. "Marijuana operations would be
permitted in any neighborhood in the state.There are few
qualifications for the "caregivers" who would be allowed to provide
marijuana to users.Additionally, the definition of which medical
conditions qualify one for use of marijuana is so broad that it would
allow nearly any Rhode Islander to be a user."

Also, he said, "this bill appears to violate federal law. The United
States Supreme Court has ruled that state laws permitting the
medicinal use of marijuana do not trump federal laws criminalizing
marijuana.Rhode Islanders who rely on state law can still be
prosecuted criminally by the federal government."

"Currently, Rhode Island laws show no mercy to cancer, multiple
sclerosis and AIDS patients who are trying to allay their suffering,"
Slater told his House colleagues during the debate.

He said 10 other states have "realized it makes no sense to make
people criminals for following their doctor's advice and relieving
their pain. The sky has not fallen and thousands of people live in
less pain and less terror.

"The seriously ill no longer have to live in fear for using a medicine
that works," Slater said. "They no longer have to worry that police
will barge into their homes, that their children will be taken from
them or that they will spend their dying days alone in a cell."

Slater told his fellow representatives, "the issue is a personal one
for me, as I currently have cancer. There may come a time when I want
to explore the possibility of using marijuana for medical purposes. I
shouldn't have to risk the indignity of arrest or prosecution for
pursuing something to relieve my pain.

"Our state law does not have any business criminalizing the seriously
ill for following their doctors advice," Slater declared.

Of the no votes, seven were cast by Republicans and six by members of
the so-called "dissident Democrat" faction opposed to House Speaker
William Murphy.

Minority Leader Robert Watson, who supported the bill's passage, said
he would not vote to override the governor of his party. "Symbolically
today, I shall cast a vote with my governor, and his right to veto
legislation. I happen to believe that if there were enough votes today
to sustain the governor's veto, we would work diligently and in short
order we would pass a medical marijuana bill that may very well have
addressed some of the issues that the governor correctly recognized as
issues that need to be resolved before we can pass a non-flawed piece
of legislation."

Talking to reporters after the vote, Murphy told reporters, "I firmly
believe the issue was put aside" by Republicans and dissident
Democrats in an attempt to sustain the governor's veto and embarrass
the House leadership. He said that effort was scuttled by many of the
opponents once they realized they did not have sufficient votes to
override the veto.

"Today's vote proves yet again that the movement to protect medical
marijuana patients from arrest is unstoppable," Rob Kampia, executive
director of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which
joined the effort to pass the bill said in a press release.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake