Rhode Island Legislature Overrides Veto of Medical Marijuana Distribution Bill

Providence, RI -- Both houses of the Rhode Island legislature voted overwhelmingly today to override Governor Carcieri's veto of a bill that would establish 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." Rhode Island's House of Representatives voted 65-0 to override the Governor's veto and the Senate did so with a vote of 35-3. The new Rhode Island law is designed to have the first Compassion Center operational within 7 months, with the other two Centers licensed within a year after that.

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. "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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