Medical marijuana bill passed

May 23, 2007

Steve Peoples, Providence Journal (RI)

PROVIDENCE — Pamela Bailey sat quietly on the wooden bench inside State House Room 212 as the politicians approved the bill named for her son.

She would say later that she was grateful, but that she didn’t need a state law to remember her firstborn.

“We didn’t have to have it in the limelight. He’ll always be with me,” she said of Edward O. Hawkins, whose name will forever appear on the title of the state’s medical marijuana law. It was Bailey’s sister, Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, who suggested the name.

Hawkins, who spent the last months of his life in Rhode Island hospitals and a nursing home, died from complications related to AIDS in 2003. He was 41.

“It was a terrible, terrible death. Absolutely horrible,” said his mother. “He was skin and bones. Nobody could even realize.”

While the bill to permanently extend the medical marijuana law passed the House and Senate earlier in the month, the legislation cleared its final procedural hurdle yesterday after the full House passed the identical Senate version. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee also voted yesterday to approve the House version of the bill, although the House vote makes subsequent Senate action unnecessary.

The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act is now headed to the governor’s desk, where it will be vetoed, according to the governor’s spokesman, Jeff Neal. But there is sufficient support in the House to override the governor — 51 of 75 members endorsed the measure yesterday. Forty-five votes, or three-fifths, are required to overturn a veto.

“I expect that Governor Carcieri will veto the latest medical marijuana bill,” Neal said. “The use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Additionally, the bill provides no legal method for obtaining marijuana. As a result, the bill could potentially subject Rhode Islanders to federal prosecution while also promoting the illicit drug trade.”

Perry, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said she was open to amending the law next year.

The bill would allow a patient diagnosed as having a debilitating medical condition to possess up to 12 marijuana plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana. A caregiver — an adult who has agreed to assist an ill person’s medical use of marijuana — could have 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana for each of up to five qualified patients. The state Health Department would supervise the process.

Bailey said her son was in severe pain before his death, but did not smoke marijuana.

“He didn’t really use it because he was afraid it was illegal,” she said. “Anything that can help somebody in pain I think it should be available.”

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