, Associated Press
House lawmakers voted 49-12 on Wednesday to permanently extend a program permitting the chronically ill to possess and use marijuana for pain relief in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island became the eleventh state in the country last year to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes. The program will end on June 30 unless lawmakers pass bills making it permanent.
The state Senate is planning to vote on a similar bill on Thursday. To become law, one of the bills must be adopted by both chambers.
Under the program, 267 patients and 277 caregivers have received state licenses to each possess up to 12 marijuana plants and 2.5 ounces of the drug in a usable form, said Andrea Bagnall Degos, a spokesman for the Department of Health.
More than half of those enrolled in the program last year said they were suffering from problems including seizures, chronic pain or severe nausea, according to an annual report issued by state health authorities.
Republican Gov. Don Carcieri vetoed the legislation the first time it was passed, but the General Assembly overrode his veto. Carcieri objects to the program because it doesn’t create a legal way to buy marijuana and promotes illegal drug use, said his spokesman, Jeff Neal.
Selling and possessing marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but federal drug officials haven’t arrested any people enrolled in the program in Rhode Island.