Medical MJ advocates want to drop 'sunset clause'
February 14, 2007
Jim Baron, Pawtucket Times (RI)PROVIDENCE -- "The sky has definitely not fallen" as a result of Rhode Island's law permitting the use of medical marijuana by gravely ill patients, said Sen. Rhoda Perry.
"It's gone exactly as we expected," she said. "A relatively small number of people, for whom more traditional pain treatment hasn't been effective, have been referred by their physician and have used the program successfully to relieve their pain. It has worked virtually without incident and has proven to be an effective program that doesn't promote abuse. It's time to make it permanent,"
So Perry, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, and Rep. Thomas Slater, who championed it in the House, are looking to remove a "sunset clause" in the current law that would cause it to expire on June 30 if it is not reauthorized.
Slater told The Times Thursday he already has 30 co-sponsors for the bill on the House side and hopes to get more when the Assembly returns from its weeklong winter recess at the end of the month.
Slater said he does not anticipate problems getting the bill passed again. "I've heard good things, even people who didn't want their name on it (as co-sponsors) have said they will support it," the Providence legislator said.
"Marijuana has been proven to give relief for people suffering with painful, debilitating diseases for which no other pain medication has been effective," Slater said. "Now we have a year of history with this program that shows us that letting those people use marijuana helps them and that this program doesn't hurt anybody else. We made a compassionate decision to allow medical marijuana use last year, and now we should reaffirm that commitment to permanently grant mercy to suffering Rhode Islanders,"
The bill would change only slightly from its current form, which allows individuals with a doctor's certification that they have a debilitating medical condition such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis to posses up to 12 plants or 2.5 ounces of "useable marijuana" without fear of state prosecution. Each patient can register two "caregivers" with the Department of Health who would be allowed to possess the same amount of the drug without fear of arrest or prosecution. The law does not provide a way to obtain the drug, however; it still must be procured on the black market.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal drug laws, but the vast majority of drug arrests come at the state level, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency generally targets major traffickers, not individual users.
According to the Department of Health, 229 patients and 218 caregivers have registered for the program, and there are 10 patients and three caregivers with pending applications.
Slater said there was only one incident of the law being abused in the past year. A 48-year-old man from Exeter, Steven Trimarco, was arrested for allegedly meeting with teenage girls online and offering to smoke marijuana with them.
Amendments in this year's bill include making the registration cards patients obtain from the Department of Health valid for two years, rather than requiring annual registration, and caregivers would be limited to 24 plants or five ounces of the drug, no matter how many patients they serve.
Slater said the health department thought allowing caregivers with five patients permission to have five times the limit for a single individual was excessive.
The original legislation passed over the veto of Gov. Donald Carcieri but spokesman Jeff Neal said Thursday that the governor has not taken a position on the new bill.