Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jan 2006
Source: Cranston Herald (RI)
Contact:  2006 Cranston Herald
Author: Chris Barrett
Referenced: The Edward O. Hawkins Medical Marijuana Act
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Rhode Island)


Overriding the governor's veto, the Rhode Island House of
Representatives voted 59-13 yesterday to legalize marijuana for
medicinal purposes.

Gov. Donald Carcieri vetoed the original bill, sponsored by Rep.
Thomas Slater (D-Providence), last year, but the Senate overrode the
veto before it broke for its summer recess. The House saved the
override vote for yesterday.

The law, with a sunset clause in June 2007, allows a patient with a
doctor's prescription to grow or otherwise obtain at one time up to 12
marijuana plants or 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana. In addition, the
patient can select two caregivers who can also legally grow and handle
the same amount of marijuana. Patients and their caregivers must gain
approval from the state Department of Health and register with the
department   a measure supporters say will prevent abuse of the system.

Rhode Island follows 10 other states that have similar programs.

"Ten states have realized it makes no sense to criminalize someone for
following their doctor's recommendations and relieving their
symptoms," Slater told the House. "This will allow patients with
specified conditions to use marijuana within their doctor's

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but 99 percent of
marijuana arrests are made at the state level.

"The bill carves out a workable exception to our existing laws so
critically ill patients will no longer risk arrest," Slater said.

Most Republicans joined the State Police, the Rhode Island Department
of Health and Chief Judge of Rhode Island Family Court Jeremiah S.
Jeremiah in opposing the bill.

In a statement issued shortly after the vote, Carcieri said he
continues to oppose the bill. He said the bill contains several flaws,
including few restrictions for caregivers and a vague definition of
medical conditions. He also said the bill is in direct violation of
federal law and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said state laws
permitting the use of medical marijuana do not trump federal laws
criminalizing marijuana.

Minority Leader Rep. Robert Watson (R-East Greenwich) said on the
floor that he believed in the legislation but could not vote to
override the bill because of his respect for the governor's veto.

"I happen to believe if there were enough votes here today [to sustain
the veto] we would [still] address in short order a way to provide
medicinal marijuana," he said.

Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D-Providence) disagreed.

"When would it be a more appropriate time to override the governor's
veto?" he told his colleagues, saying marijuana would help critically
ill patients.

Watching from the rear of the house with her son, Tom, Warwick
resident Rhonda O'Donnell said she was "thrilled and elated" the
override passed.

"I do want to try it to see if it helps my pain and stiffness in the
legs," said O'Donnell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in
1994. "If it doesn't help I'm not sorry, it helps other people."

Tom O'Donnell said the law would bring relief to the O'Donnell

"It's going to mean that my mom can follow her doctor's recommendation
without fear of being arrested, fined or having her home seized, so
this will put my family at ease," he said.

Cranston politicians were split on the decision to override the

Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist. 19) said the bill was more acceptable
than the original because of the sunset provision and marijuana has to
be grown in a secured area. The bill also forbids anyone with a
criminal record could participate in the program.

He said what really convinced him was a 32-year-old constituent with
Tourette's syndrome, who told him that with use of marijuana he could
reduce the level of life-shorting medication that he would otherwise
have to take.

But Rep. Carol Mumford (R-Dist. 41), who originally voted in favor of
the bill, voted to sustain the veto.

"I was swayed by the governor's veto message," she said. "Sometimes we
use emotion a little too much."

Mumford also expressed concern that the federal government will step
in as it has in California, which also legalized marijuana for medical

"I don't want to give physicians a false hope that they are
protected," she said. "In the case of Rhode Island we don't prosecute
it for those who use it [for medical reasons] we look the other way."

Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18) said he was compelled to vote for the
override out of passion and said he was not worried about people
abusing the system.

"I think that the people who are going to abuse it using this system
are already smoking it," he said. "People abusing it though this
system are in a lot more legal trouble."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake