Pubdate: Tue, 2 Feb 2010
Source: Pawtucket Times (RI)
Copyright: 2010 The Pawtucket Times
Author: Jim Baron, The Pawtucket Times
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


PROVIDENCE - While a special Senate commission continues studying the 
prohibition of marijuana and perhaps a Massachusetts-style 
decriminalization of the drug, two House members have submitted 
legislation to tighten up the state's medical marijuana law.

The Senate commission, chaired by Sen. Joshua Miller, will meet 
Wednesday at 5 p.m. to hear from Rhode Island Public Defender John J. 
Hardiman, Esq.; Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; a 
representative of the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association; and 
commission member Joe Osediacz, a retired state trooper. Osediacz 
will discuss state laws concerning the taxation of marijuana.

At the same time, two state representatives from Providence, both 
retired police officers, have introduced a bill that would set 
stricter limits on who can possess the otherwise illegal drug under 
the state's medical marijuana law.

Reps. Joseph Almeida and John Carnevale want to phase out the 
"caregivers" who are authorized to grow, possess and provide 
marijuana to certified patients once the state opens up the 
"compassion center" established last year over Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto.

Highlighting the need for tweaking the medical marijuana law, first 
passed in 2006, the legislators pointed to the recent motion by a man 
with a history of drug arrests to have drug possession charges 
dismissed because he was authorized for a medical marijuana 
identification card months after his arrest.

Almeida and Carnevale, while they support the concept of medical 
marijuana, worry that the language in existing laws can be abused to 
cover those who use the drug recreationally or sell it on the street.

"We both support compassion for sick people and believe medical 
marijuana should be available to those who legitimately need it for 
medicinal purposes," Almeida said in a written statement. "But there 
are places where the law leaves too much room for abuse. We can fix 
those and create a law that better serves Rhode Islanders by reducing 
abuse and preventing crime on our streets. Rhode Island is one of the 
frontrunners in medical marijuana, so the whole country is watching 
how we do this. It's really important that we get it right."

Under the current law, caregivers are allowed to grow or procure up 
to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or up to 12 mature plants for one or two 
registered medical marijuana patients. The Almeida-Carnevale 
legislation would eliminate licenses for caregivers one year after 
the first compassion center opens, perhaps sometime this year. It 
would ban those with convictions for drug felonies or capital 
offenses from being caregivers.

It also eliminates a provision that allows registered users to give 
marijuana to other registered users, saying that in no other case are 
patients allowed to swap their prescription drugs. It also requires 
that medical marijuana program ID cards include the date of birth of 
its holder to prevent misuse.

The lawmakers say the changes are aimed at limiting the handling and 
distribution of the drug to patients and professional staff at 
compassion centers to prevent abuse and trafficking of marijuana.

Carlevale says other provisions would tighten up controls on the 
compassion centers when they do open. For one, the bill would shift 
responsibility for inspections of those facilities from the 
Department of Health to the State Police and would allow unannounced 
inspections. It would also allow some of the members of a compassion 
center's board of directors to be residents of another state. Any 
out-of-state board members would be required to sign a waiver of 
extradition in advance, so the state would not be hampered in its 
ability to charge them in any criminal investigation related to their work.

The idea, he said, is to allow professional companies who have 
successfully run such centers in other states to bring their 
expertise in the field to Rhode Island.

"Rhode Island doesn't have people with experience in running 
compassion centers professionally," Carnevale said in a press 
release. "If we ban people from other states from serving on the 
board, we're preventing ourselves from having seasoned experts 
running them. We need those people because it's important that 
compassion centers are run professionally, with state-of-the-art 
security and safety measures in place. What we are looking to do with 
this bill is to provide medical marijuana to patients safely and 
securely, minimizing abuse of the program. Preventing misuse will 
keep patients safer and will ensure the success of the program for 
years to come."

Co-sponsors of the bill include East Providence Rep. Roberto DaSilva, 
a current Pawtucket police officer, Pawtucket Rep. Peter Kilmartin, a 
retired Pawtucket police captain and North Providence Rep. Arthur Corvese.
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