Medical Marijuana on the Way: 'Criminalizing sick' is wrong, says McHugh

July 14, 2005

Leslie Rovetti, The Day (New London, CT)

Rhode Island is one step closer to the legalization of medical marijuana, after the Senate overrode Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's veto of the bill that would decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Ten states -- Maine, Vermont, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- have laws allowing medical use of marijuana. A recent Zogby poll indicated that 69 percent of Rhode Islanders favor the measure.

Both the House and Senate submitted versions of the bill, and both were vetoed by Carcieri. The Senate overrode the veto on its own bill last month. At the time of this writing, the House had not yet met to override the veto of either version, but that action was expected.

Both of the congressmen who represent Westerly voted for the passage of the bill, largely because of the input they received from their constituents.

Rep. Peter L. Lewiss, D-37th District, said he voted in favor of the bill after hearing from constituents who were suffering from cancer.

Not only did Rep. Matthew J. McHugh, D-36th District, receive a lot of calls from people in his district, but he said he also felt 'criminalizing sick people' was wrong.

Although there are still implementation issues to be worked through, he said, 'It's a good first step for the state of Rhode Island.'

Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly, voted against the bill, but could not be reached for comment.

Once passed, the law would go into effect immediately. The Department of Health would issue identification cards to patients who have been authorized to use medical marijuana by their doctors.

Marijuana users with a valid state-issued card could not be arrested under state law if caught with the drug, provided other conditions are met, such as not possessing more than a certain amount, or being on school grounds. They could still be arrested under federal law, but state officials cannot arrest under federal law.

According to reports, a Drug Enforcement Agency administrator said the federal agency usually involves itself in cases of major drug traffickers and producers, and does not intend to begin targeting people who are sick and dying.

But while this has become cut and dried for some people in Rhode Island, members of the medical community are a little fuzzier on the issue.

Robert Mills of the American Medical Association said the AMA recommends keeping marijuana as a controlled substance 'pending the outcome of studies to prove the application and efficacy of marijuana and other related cannabinoids.'

He said they would prefer to see a smokeless delivery system for either marijuana or its active components, 'to reduce the health hazards associated with the combustion and inhalation of marijuana.'

Joyce Gallagher Sullivan of the American Cancer Society said that 'our position is that we do not advocate the use of inhaled marijuana.'

The cancer society is funding research into alternative delivery systems for marijuana. She said they recently awarded a four-year, $720,000 grant to a researcher in Kentucky to study 'transdermal delivery of cannabinoids in cancer patients.'

And while both spokesmen advocate a wait-and-see approach with medical marijuana, they both mentioned that patients afflicted with cancer and other painful medical conditions should not be prosecuted for trying to alleviate their suffering. 



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