Medical ‘pot’ veto attacked

December 12, 2005

Jim Baron, The Pawtucket Times

Billboards are usually intended to spread a message to a broad array of people - the thousands or tens of thousands who drive past on a highway or other busy road, for instance.
The billboard at Orms and State streets, however, has a target audience of just 75: the membership of the House of Representatives, which meets at the Statehouse just a block away starting next month.
It was erected by a group that wants the House to override Gov. Donald Carcieri’s veto of the medical marijuana bill passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. Unlike its splashier, more colorful cousins, the message put up on the roadside sign by the RI Patient Advocacy Coalition consists of three stark lines of type on a plain white background. It says: "Protect medical marijuana patients ... Don't leave us out in the cold ... Override the governor's veto!"

The last chance for that to happen will come on Jan. 3, when the General Assembly returns for its 2006 session. The House of Representatives, whose 2005 session is still technically in recess, could vote to override before formally adjourning the previous session and starting a new one.

The Senate already voted to override the governor’s veto last July, before it left for its summer recess, so an override by the House would make the law effective.

Under the legislation, a seriously ill patient could be certified by the state Department of Health, after a doctor’s recommendation, as having certain chronic or debilitating diseases such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease. That patient and up to two "primary caregivers" would be immune from arrest, prosecution, forfeiture or other penalty for possessing up to 2.5 ounces of "useable marijuana," or 12 marijuana plants. The primary

caregiver must be over 21-years-old and not be a convicted drug felon.

In his veto message, Carcieri said the effect of the legislation would be to "make marijuana more available to children in Rhode Island." He also said the bill’s definition of illness that would qualify a person to receive medical marijuana is overly broad.

At a press conference Monday beneath the billboard, Rep. Thomas Slater, the author of the House bill confidently predicted an override

"The Speaker (of the House William Murphy) has given his word that he will take a vote on it," Slater told The Times.

Murphy himself was a bit more vague, saying through spokesman Larry Berman: "The leadership is committed to making all efforts to pass Representative Slater’s legislation."

It takes 45 votes for the House to override a veto, the medical marijuana bill got 52 votes in the House when it originally passed.

Chris Butler, executive director of AIDS Project Rhode Island, said, "I am here today to urge the RI House of Representatives to take up the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana bill as their first order of business on Jan. 3 and to join the state Senate in overriding the governor’s misguided veto of this sensible, humane bill..f the House adjourns the 2005 session on Jan. 3 without taking up the veto, we will be forced to begin the entire process again, further delaying much needed relief for people with illnesses such as end stage AIDS.

Dr. Margaret Sun, president of the RI Academy of Family Physicians, said, "My job as a physician is to be one who provides comfort for patients and helps in whatever way I can. This allows me one more medication that I can provide to my patients."

"It shouldn’t be a crime for me not to live my life in pain," said Warren Dolbashain, 34, who uses marijuana to treat Tourette’s syndrome and chronic, debilitating pain resulting from a motorcycle accident.

"In the eyes of Rhode Island law, I am a criminal for using a medicine that allows me to be functional," Dolbashian said.


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