Medical marijuana in R.I.

May 18, 2004

EDITORIAL, Providence Journal

Rhode Island may soon become the 10th state to let doctors recommend marijuana to their patients. The drug is known to ease pain and the discomforts of treatments for cancer, AIDS and other ailments. Legalizing marijuana for medical use would seem a humane and rational policy.

So far, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have passed laws permitting the use of marijuana with a doctor's approval.

The bill before the Rhode Island legislature would not permit the commercial cultivation of pot. If it passes, a patient with a qualifying illness could have a doctor write a recommendation for marijuana. The state Department of Health would then issue an ID, allowing the patient to possess up to one ounce of pot or to grow six plants.

Under current Rhode Island law, possession of less than one kilogram (about 35 ounces) of pot is a misdemeanor, which can bring up to one year in jail and a $500 fine.

The Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act has 20 co-sponsors in the House and no declared opponents. It also has the backing of the Rhode Island Medical Society -- the first state medical society to endorse medical marijuana -- and the Rhode Island Nurses Association. Moreover, a Zogby poll commissioned by the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition found 69 percent of the state's registered voters to favor it.

It bears noting that the U.S. Department of Justice has not given its blessing to marijuana use for any purpose. And Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has been going after marijuana clubs in California, which were formed to provide the drug for patients.

'Nothing like that would be happening here,' predicts Tom Angell, spokesman of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. The California operations were large enough to attract the Fed's attention, and, he adds, '99 out of 100 marijuana arrests are under state law. We're not expecting Ashcroft to come in and arrest my mother.'

Furthermore, recent court decisions have frustrated the Justice Department's efforts. The Supreme Court refused to review a 9th Circuit Court (San Francisco) ruling that protected a doctor's right to discuss marijuana with patients, and the 9th Circuit Court told the federal government not to interfere in medicinal-marijuana use that does not cross state lines and involve selling the drug.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Los Angeles barely brushed the wrist of a woman found to grow marijuana for a West Hollywood cannabis club. Judy Osburn was given one year's probation. 'You are a principled person,' said U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz. 'I don't consider you to be a threat or menace to society.'

Neither should Rhode Islanders take the medical use of marijuana to be a danger to the public.



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