Pubdate: Tue, 13 May 2008
Source: Call, The (Woonsocket, RI)
Copyright: 2008 The Call.
Author: Jim Baron
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Marijuana and Driving)


PROVIDENCE - A bill to create "compassion centers" to dispense 
medical marijuana that appeared headed for passage in the Senate was 
derailed at the last minute by an amendment that would have forbidden 
smoking the drug in cars or where children are present.

When the oral amendment offered by Sen. Leo Blais passed on a vote of 
18-16, the sponsor of the original bill, Sen. Rhoda Perry, moved to 
have the measure sent back to the committee she chairs for a second 
try at having the bill pass without the amendment.

Perry called the amendment "a grievous insult to sick, debilitated, 
fragile patients and potential patients that we as a body think they 
wouldn't be concerned about second-hand smoke" affecting children or 
the person driving the car in which they are a passenger.

Noting that the legislation has been endorsed by medical societies 
and nurses associations, patient advocates and groups promoting the 
interests of AIDS patients, Perry told her colleagues, "We are not 
dealing with rebellious teenagers nor are we dealing with hippies 
from the 1960s. We are dealing with 376 and more seriously ill men 
and women with the kinds of disabling diseases that you or I would 
never want to have" Perry said 376 patients are currently enrolled in 
the state's medical marijuana program.

If patients would not smoke their medical marijuana in front of 
youngsters or in cars, why not let the bill pass as amended?

Perry told reporters after the vote that "it is a matter of 
principle, and principle is very important."

Rep. Thomas Slater, who introduced an identical bill in the House of 
Representatives, where it appears to be mired in committee, has said 
he would be amenable to having a commission study on the issue rather 
than pushing for passage this year.

A license for a compassion center would be issued to a non-profit 
group answering a request for proposals from the Department of 
Health, which would also be designated to write rules and regulations 
under which the centers would operate.

Perry declined to discuss what was going on in the House, saying it 
"could help deep-six" what she is trying to accomplish in the Senate.

Blais said he sought the amendment because "fundamentally, I disagree 
with the fact that we should now be opening compassion centers."

A pharmacist by profession, Blais said, "I don't think that, 
pharmacologically speaking, we need to legalize a federally illegal 
drug in the state of Rhode Island and putting all the handcuffs on 
law enforcement that we do to protect people who are engaged in, 
clearly, an illegal activity. There are no ifs, ands or buts about 
it. We can suggest with a wink and a nod that marijuana is OK because 
other states are doing it and if 50 states legalize marijuana, maybe 
the feds will."

Blais cited "the intoxicating effect of second-hand (marijuana) 
smoke" as his reason to forbid it in cars, whether the patient is a 
driver or passenger, and where children are present.

After the bill was voted back to committee, Senate Majority Leader 
Teresa Paiva-Weed said: "Senator Perry has the commitment of 
leadership to work on this bill and it will be back out. As a 
courtesy, she allowed Senator Blais to make an oral amendment; it 
became confusing on the floor. We should not have allowed him to make 
the oral amendment.

"That is no reflection on the merits of this issue or the commitment 
of leadership for this legislation to pass," Paiva-Weed added.

Asked if it would take a change of administrations in Washington to 
allay concerns abut arrest and prosecution at the federal level for 
behavior that is legal in Rhode Island and other states, Perry said, 
"That may well be the case."

Dr. David Gifford, director of the state Department of Health, 
replied when asked about the compassion center bill: "In general, the 
administration has not been in favor of medical marijuana legislation."

Perry said the "biggest problem" experienced by those covered by the 
medical marijuana law was "there is not really a safe way to access 
their medicine." She cited several cases of people who testified in 
committee that they were robbed or held at gunpoint trying to buy 
marijuana on the street.

"There was a tremendous hole in the (law) and we all knew it. That 
is, where would they get the product," said Sen. Charles Levesque of 

"All of us here, because we recognized the need for the legislation, 
I don't think we ignored the problem, we basically said, people are 
coming to us so desperate that they are willing to undertake the 
risk. This bill seeks to close that hole. To provide a safe, 
reasonably accessible place for people to get what they need to take 
care of their distress.

"People come to us with any number of different diseases and what 
they say to us is very simple: 'This provides me relief,'" Levesque 
said. "Several years ago we said, all right, we are going to to let 
them have that relief without interference from state law. We've all 
acknowledged we can not control the federal government, they will 
continue their insanity as long as they want to.

"The original question is gone," Levesque said. "The question is are 
we going to allow them to do this in a safe and reasonable manner." 
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