Pubdate: Thu, 5 Mar 2009 Source: Providence Journal, The (RI) Copyright: 2009 The Providence Journal Company Contact: http://www.projo.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/352 Author: Cynthia Needham, Journal State House Bureau Referenced: The House bill http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/billtext09/housetext09/h5359.pdf Referenced: The Senate bill http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/billtext09/senatetext09/s0185.pdf Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Marijuana - Medicinal) BILL WOULD LICENSE DISPENSARIES TO SELL MEDICAL MARIJUANA 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."