Pubdate: Fri, 16 May 2008
Source: Providence Journal, The (RI)
Copyright: 2008 The Providence Journal Company
Author: Steve Peoples, Journal State House Bureau
Referenced: The bill
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


PROVIDENCE -- The Senate approved legislation yesterday that would 
create "compassion centers" where chronically ill patients enrolled 
in the state's medical marijuana program could openly purchase the drug.

Despite the 29-to-6 vote, the bill faces opposition in the House of 
Representatives and is not expected to become law this year.

"I would really have to have a sock over my head if I didn't know 
that," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence. 
The legislation is named in part for her nephew, Edward O. Hawkins, 
who died of complications from AIDS and cancer.

"What I think is important is to show movement," Perry said of 
yesterday's vote. "I think getting it out of a chamber is movement. 
It's showing that there is a level of understanding and a level of acceptance."

The General Assembly last year made permanent a law that allowed the 
state to offer a medical marijuana program to chronically ill 
patients. But lawmakers did not offer a legal means for patients to 
obtain the drug, which is considered illegal by the federal 
government even when prescribed.

"It was sort of the unasked question," said House Majority Leader 
Gordon D. Fox. "Do you send someone that may be suffering from cancer 
or whatnot out into the streets to procure it? I don't know if that's 
necessarily a good solution. I think the natural extension of that is 
that we provide some sort of safe place to obtain it for those who 
are legally authorized."

But Fox couldn't explain the widespread assumption that the House 
would block it from becoming law.

"I'm not saying that the leadership's going to support it," he said. 
"I'd like to read the bill. I haven't looked at what the bill does."

The legislation would create licensed marijuana dispensaries, or 
"compassion centers," that would legally grow and sell the drug at 
affordable prices to the 359 patients in the state's program. The 
centers would be regulated by the state Health Department.

At least 12 states have laws allowing use of medical marijuana. But 
policies governing dispensaries are more fractured and several states 
have stumbled trying to pass legislation for distribution centers.

Part of the problem is that federal law still bans marijuana use, 
even for medical purposes. Dozens of dispensaries in California (one 
of two states that allows them) have been raided by the federal 
government, something medical marijuana supporters say they don't 
want to see happen in Rhode Island. 
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