Pubdate: Wed, 20 May 2009
Source: Call, The (Woonsocket, RI)
Copyright: 2009 The Call.
Author: Jim Baron
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


PROVIDENCE - Following the lead of the Senate, the  House of
Representatives Wednesday approved by a  lopsided majority a bill
approving the establishment of  a non-profit "compassion center" to
distribute medical  marijuana to authorized patients.

After just over 10 minutes of debate the House voted  63-5 to pass the
bill introduced by Providence Rep.  Thomas Slater. A companion bill
passed in the Senate  last month on a 35-2 vote.

Before the measure can become law, the House must pass  the Senate
version of the bill and/or the Senate must  pass the House version of
the bill and send it to Gov.  Donald Carcieri who, according to his
spokeswoman, is  "expected to veto it."

The margins by which the proposal passed in each  chamber would easily
be sufficient to override a veto,  if legislative leaders choose to
challenge Carcieri on  the matter.

Supporters hailed the passage as a needed follow-up to  the 2006 law
making it legal for seriously ill patients  who are registered with
the state Department of Health  to possess and grow marijuana for
medical purposes.  While they were authorized to have and use the
drug,  the often sick and feeble patients were on their own to  obtain
it. If they could not grow a sufficient supply  for themselves, they
were forced to acquire it on the  street through the black market, a
dangerous method  they said occasionally led to their being
threatened,  beaten or robbed.

"It was never our intent when we first licensed this to  send
critically ill patients to help local drug dealers  with their
business," said Rep. Joseph McNamara,  chairman of the House Health,
Education and Welfare  Committee. "This legislation would offer safe,
viable  and regulated alternative to that."

Warwick Rep. Joseph Trillo, who opposed the original  medical
marijuana law, said the dis

Watching the debate and vote from a wheelchair was  Ellen Smith, a
retired school teacher from North  Scituate who uses marijuana to ease
the  symptoms of sarcoidosis and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Smith told reporters outside the House Gallery that she  takes the
drug to sleep through the night, something  her pain did not allow her
to do before. Most of the  time, she said, patients in her condition
are  prescribed opiates such as Oxycontin or Morphine, but  her body
can not tolerate those drugs.

Smith was eager to dispel misapprehensions about  medical marijuana

"We're not druggies," she said. "I don't get stoned; my  body gets
relaxed. There is a huge difference."

Smith and her husband, Stuart, say they try to grow the  drug, but
having the dispensary will provide a back-up  source of the medicine
that she does not have now.

Slater, who is a cancer patient said after the vote  that "people
don't realize how much pain you get from  cancer. Each day I get up, I
don't know if I am going  to be able to walk because I have so much
pain in my  legs."

Slater said he does not currently use marijuana, but he  can foresee a
day when it may become necessary.

Jesse Stout, executive director of the RI Patient  Advocacy Coalition,
said his group "would love to see  the governor sign this important
piece of legislation,"  but said that in the event of a veto, they
urge the  House and Senate to override it quickly.

"Patients need to have access to medical marijuana  right now," he

If it becomes law, the bill calls for the Department of  Health to
write regulations under which it will  consider applications for a
non-profit group to operate  a compassion center and to grant a
certificate to open  a center within 190 days.

A center would be allowed to acquire, possess,  cultivate, deliver,
transfer, transport and supply  marijuana and related supplies and
educational  materials to patients who are registered with the  health
department. There are currently just over 600  patients registered to
use marijuana in the state.

According to the legislation, two more compassion  centers can be
established after two years from the  effective date of the bill.

Amy Kempe, the governor's spokeswoman said Wednesday  that "The
governor has not changed his opposition to  the legislation." Last
year, the House amended a  compassion center bill to establish a
commission to  study the proposal, but Carcieri vetoed that. The
legislature allowed that veto to stand.

She said allowing medical marijuana dispensaries  "weakens the laws
governing illicit drugs and it also  weakens the public perception of
illicit drugs." 
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