HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Marijuana Law Gets Senate Nod
Pubdate: Fri, 04 May 2007
Source: Pawtucket Times (RI)
Copyright: 2007 The Pawtucket Times
Author: Jim Baron
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


PROVIDENCE - Following in the footsteps of Wednesday's House vote, 
the Senate approved legislation Thursday to make the state's medical 
marijuana law permanent.

The vote was 28-5, far exceeding the three-fifths vote required to 
survive the veto Gov. Donald Carcieri says is likely to come. The law 
that protects from arrest or prosecution patients who suffer from a 
debilitating medical condition as certified by a physician and one or 
two "caregivers" who help them procure, grow or use the drug, was 
passed over the governor's veto in January, 2006, it is set to expire 
on June 30 unless a so-called "sunset clause" is eliminated. The 
now-identical measures that passed the House and Senate this week do 
just that. Under General Assembly procedure, the House bill will now 
go to the Senate for passage and the Senate bill will go to the House.

Then both bills will go to Carcieri, who said if the measures are 
similar to what was passed last year, which they are, he would 
probably veto them. He must do that within six days (excluding 
Sundays) from the date he receives the bills from the respective chambers.

Sen. Rhoda Perry, who has sponsored medical marijuana legislation in 
one form or another for nearly a decade, thanked fellow senators for 
supporting the law and lifting the sunset clause. "It really has 
taken almost eight years for it to be at the point we are at right 
now," Perry told her colleagues. "I believe my actions and your 
actions have allowed seriously ill people to alleviate their pain and 
suffering and pain without fear of arrest or prosecution on a state 
level. "Over 250 of our constituents," Perry said, "people who are 
suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, other debilitating, 
chronic pain conditions are now a part of this groundbreaking program.

These people who are using medical marijuana are not using it to get 
high. They are using it to alleviate pain and other serious symptoms."

The bill is titled The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical 
Marijuana Act. Hawkins, who died three years ago of AIDS, was Perry's 
nephew and she said it was his struggle with the disease that 
inspired her to push for the legislation. Rep. Thomas Slater, himself 
a cancer patient, is the prime sponsor of the House bill. The law 
makes no provision for patients to obtain the drug, so they must buy 
it illegally on the black market.

The law does not shield individuals from arrest or prosecution under 
federal law. Sen. Charles Levesque told colleagues, "The numerous 
people who came in and individually told us their experience was they 
had no desire to go down this road, they had no desire to put their 
friends down the road of obtaining an illegal substance, putting 
themselves at risk in doing so. But they said ultimately it was their 
only form of relief, the only thing that allowed them to eat, to 
sleep, to find any comfort when they had been suffering from a 
debilitating disease.

"It was beyond my ability to look at these folks and say, I will not 
be prepared to give you that relief that you are begging us for," 
Levesque continued. "Boy, if that didn't make me feel humble, that 
someone had to come and ask me or any of us for that relief."

Patients are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of "useable 
marijuana" or 12 plants and they may designate one or two caregivers. 
A caregiver can serve up to five patients, but under amendments 
approved in both the House and Senate this week, may possess no more 
than 5 ounces of the drug or 24 plants.

The law as it stands allows care givers to possess 2.5 ounces and 12 
plants for each patient, but some lawmakers felt that could amount to 
too much marijuana and urged the amendment to cap the amount 
caregivers can hold at any one time.

Sen. Leo Blais of Coventry, a pharmacist, tried to amend the 
legislation to prevent anyone from being a caregiver if a court found 
them to be in violation of the Rhode Island Uniform Controlled 
Substances Act. "My concern with this bill is there is no prohibition 
currently for folks who have been given the extreme privilege of 
doing a patently illegal act under federal law" if they violate other 
drug laws. "There is no provision that says you lose your privilege.

On the one hand we say we give you this big privilege to violate 
federal law and do this process of growing marijuana plants, but go 
ahead if you want to sell Oxycontin (a prescription narcotic) out the 
back door, that's fine because no matter what happens to you on that 
side, when you get out of prison, you still have your card to grow."

Actually, the bill passed in the House and Senate prohibits anyone 
who has a drug felony on his or her record from being a caregiver.

"The science supporting medical marijuana is now beyond doubt, and 
Rhode Island's experience with this law has been completely 
positive," said Ray Warren, director of state policies for the 
Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "The only controversy 
seems to be in the governor's mind, but strong support from the 
public and the medical community overcame his veto once, and if 
necessary, will do so again."
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