Medical Marijuana Distribution Bill Passes Both Rhode Island Houses

May 20, 2009
Providence, RI -- The Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H5359 today by a vote of 63-5, paving the way for three state-licensed, non-profit Compassion Centers that can "acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver, transfer, transport, supply, or dispense marijuana...to registered qualifying patients and their registered primary caregivers." The RI State Senate passed a companion bill, S0185, on April 29th by a vote of 35-2. Today's State House vote indicates a solid victory for medical marijuana patients regardless of a possible veto by Governor Carcieri.

The issue of medical marijuana distribution has recently been in the headlines because of Obama Administration statements about ending federal enforcement against such facilities in California. At the same time, states like Rhode Island have recognized the need to address access to medical marijuana: a bill to authorize the use of medical marijuana and license similar compassion centers is currently being considered in New Jersey; a ballot initiative that would amend Maine's medical marijuana law to approve dispensaries will come to a vote in November 2009; and in March, the New Mexico Department of Health issued its first license to a non-profit medical marijuana producer.

"It's heartening to see states voting on and implementing much-needed distribution systems for patients that can't grow medical marijuana themselves," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana group advocating for increased access. "What's needed now is for the federal government to work in harmony with these states in their efforts to ensure safe access to medical marijuana."

The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), comprised of patients, advocacy groups, and healthcare providers, including the RI Medical Society and RI State Nurses Association, has been instrumental to ensuring the passage of the Medical Marijuana Act. The Rhode Island Compassion Center bill now heads to the Governor's desk where it is expected to be vetoed and sent back to both houses for a veto-override vote, which advocates expect to win. "Rhode Island's determination to ensure safe access to medical marijuana is exemplary and a model for other states to follow," said RIPAC Executive Director Jesse Stout.

President Obama repeatedly stated at campaign appearances that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." That campaign promise was affirmed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in more recent statements made to the media about a "new American policy." However, several Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids since the election have caused advocates to demand better adherence to those statements.

Further information:
Rhode Island Compassion Center bill, H5359: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText09/HouseText09/H5359.pdf
RIPAC and the Compassion Center bill: http://ripatients.org/Home/cc09/

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