Rhode Island legalizes medical pot

January 04, 2006

Liz Highleyman, Bay Area Reporter

Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana Tuesday, January 3, after the General Assembly overrode Republican Governor Donald Carcieri's veto by a 59-13 margin.

"This shows that the movement is virtually unstoppable," Hilary McQuie of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access told the Bay Area Reporter. "Legislators are starting to wake up to the fact that their constituents broadly and strongly support medical marijuana."

Under the new law – which was supported by the Rhode Island Medical Society, the Rhode Island Nurses Association, and AIDS Project Rhode Island – patients with illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis may register for a state medical cannabis ID card, which will allow them to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of processed marijuana or grow up to 12 plants.

Tuesday's action is particularly significant because Rhode Island's law is the first to pass since the U.S. Supreme Court's Gonzales v Raich ruling last June, which held that patients could be prosecuted for medical cannabis use under the federal Controlled Substances Act, despite state laws to the contrary.

Rhode Island is the third state, after Hawaii and Vermont, in which a medical cannabis law has been enacted by a state legislature. In the remaining states – including California – the laws came about through ballot initiatives.

The newly enacted measure was co-sponsored by Representative Thomas Slater (D-Providence), who has cancer but currently does not use medical cannabis, and state Senator Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), whose nephew died of AIDS a year ago this month.

"I'm sure everybody in this room knows at least one person who would have benefited from medical marijuana," Slater told fellow legislators prior to the vote.

The bill originally passed by a vote of 30-0 in the Senate and 52-10 in the House. Carcieri vetoed the bill on June 29, three weeks after the Supreme Court decision. The Senate overrode the veto the following day, but the House waited until after recess. With Tuesday's vote, the law will now take effect immediately.

Carcieri continues to oppose the legislation because it does not provide a way to legally purchase cannabis, lacks restrictions to protect neighborhoods, and appears to violate federal law, according to statement released Tuesday.

"Users will be forced to purchase marijuana in the illegal street market, putting them at risk and complicating the difficult jobs that our law enforcement personnel must do every day," said the governor's press secretary, Jeff Neal.

Though White House drug czar John Walters declared that last June's Supreme Court ruling "marked the end of medical marijuana as a political issue," medical cannabis advocates beg to differ.

"There are not a lot of issues on which the American public is this unanimous," said Marijuana Policy Project communications director Bruce Mirken, citing a November 1 Gallup poll showing that 78 percent of those surveyed favored allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. "This overwhelming victory gives me hope that in our democracy we can still drag our elected leaders kicking and screaming toward reasonable policy."

 



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