Associated Press, Boston Herald
Medical marijuana patients urged legislators on Wednesday to permanently legalize the drug for medicinal uses in Rhode Island, saying it is one of the few things that provide relief for crippling pain often caused by chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and AIDS.
”Please approve this law again - this time permanently,” said multiple sclerosis patient Rhonda O’Donnell of Warwick at a Senate hearing on a bill that would remove the sunshine clause from the state’s medical marijuana law, essentially legalizing medical marijuana use for good.
O’Donnell, 44, who got out of her wheelchair and leaned over a podium to speak, said marijuana is often the only thing that can relieve burning pain in her legs from the disease. She asked the committee to ”please show your compassion once again.”
Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2006. A total of 244 Rhode Islanders are now permitted to possess small amounts of marijuana under the state’s medical marijuana program, according to state health authorities. Eighteen applications are pending.
If the law is not renewed by June 30 the licenses will become invalid.
The senate could consider Sen. Rhoda Perry’s bill by mid-April. The House is also considering a proposal to permanently legalize medicinal marijuana.
Patients seeking to use marijuana for medical purposes in Rhode Island need documentation from a doctor saying they have one of several chronic illnesses, such as cancer or AIDS, and that the benefits of marijuana use outweigh the risks.
Applicants must provide certification from a doctor in the state that says marijuana may mitigate their symptoms. They also can designate someone to grow or buy marijuana for them, and those under 18 may use the drug if they get permission from a parent or legal guardian.
Perry’s bill would also extend medical marijuana licenses to two years rather than one year.
Possessing marijuana remains illegal under federal law and people who use the substance could still be prosecuted by federal officials.
Steven Steiner, co-founder of the Americans for Drug Free Youth, urged the committee to let the bill expire, saying the use of medical marijuana needs further study and that marijuana acts as a gateway to other drugs.
”Let the bill die. Let science do it’s job,” he said.
But Kelly Powers, 32, a Warwick mother of two, said she was sickened by prescription medication and found little relief for multiple sclerosis and chronic anxiety until she used marijuana.
She told the committee that marijuana has helped reduce her use of prescription drugs and enabled her to resume much of her life.
”To have this taken away from all the chronically ill patients would be a crime,” she said.
Several doctors told the committee that marijuana is now recognized for treating intractable nerve pain and helps many patients cope with an otherwise incapacitating illness. Dr. Margaret Son, an East Providence family physician, said the fact that only several hundred people in Rhode Island are allowed to use medical marijuana shows that the state has been prudent in granting licenses.
”I don’t believe that this has been abused in any fashion,” she said.