Pubdate: Thu, 5 Mar 2009
Source: Providence Journal, The (RI)
Copyright: 2009 The Providence Journal Company
Author: Cynthia Needham, Journal State House Bureau
Referenced: The House bill
Referenced: The Senate bill
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


PROVIDENCE -- For Bobby Ebert, the legalization of medical marijuana 
in Rhode Island didn't just bring relief, it brought a slew of 
unwanted anxieties.

State law allows the Warwick HIV patient to use the drug to alleviate 
his chronic pain -- but it offers him no place to buy it legally.

So Ebert did what many of Rhode Island's medical marijuana patients 
do. Frail and in pain, he made his way from his suburban apartment to 
the streets of Providence in search of a drug dealer. The first time 
he went, he was robbed.

Ebert's problem is not unique. Since Rhode Island permanently 
legalized the use of medical marijuana two years ago for those 
suffering from chronic and painful illnesses, it has provided no 
legal access to the drug, leaving most patients no option but to buy 
it on the street, or enlist a caregiver to grow it for them.

Now Rep. Thomas C. Slater and Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, the Providence 
legislators who sponsored the original marijuana bill, have proposed 
allowing licensed dispensaries or "compassion centers" which would 
grow and sell the drug at affordable prices to the 600 patients now 
enrolled in the state's program.

"Licensing a nonprofit compassion center would solve the problems by 
allowing a safe, state-regulated place for patients to get their 
medicine," Slater said.

A similar bill was approved by the Senate last year, only to die in a 
House committee. The governor later vetoed a compromise plan to study 
the concept.

But a year can make a big difference. Last session, lawmakers cited 
concerns about a spate of federal raids on dispensaries in 
California, one of the few other states besides Colorado and New 
Mexico that legalize sales. Could Rhode Island clinics face similar problems?

Last week, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder publicly 
indicated that the Obama administration will no longer tolerate such raids.

Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, chairman of the House Committee on Health 
Education and Welfare , said that development, along with language in 
this year's bill pledging security measures at the centers, have made 
him view the proposal "much more favorably" than he did last year.

"The questions I had have been answered and I'm pleased the federal 
government has made a commitment not to come in and arrest these very 
vulnerable individuals," McNamara said after a hearing on the bill last night.

Massachusetts voters in November approved a ballot initiative to 
decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, a move 
some say shows an increased public tolerance.

No one testified in opposition of the House bill last night, and the 
Health Department said it is not taking a position. (Last year the 
department opposed it.) But several committee members signaled 
lingering concerns, questioning the logistics of how the centers 
would be run and how they would be received in neighborhoods.

No vote was taken in that hearing, or in a simultaneous one in a 
Senate committee. For Bobby Ebert and the dozens of other fragile 
patients who filled the committee rooms yesterday, the generally 
positive reaction brought a new sense of relief.

"Depending on how my body is feeling, every inch hurts," said Daniel 
Rivera, 37, of East Providence, who suffers from fibromyalgia and 
chronic pain syndrome. "So trying to get by without this medical 
marijuana or not being able to find a place to get it is a very scary 
position to be in."