Providence, R.I. -- Rhode Island soon could be the 11th state to legalize the use of marijuana by people with debilitating or chronic diseases. The Senate on Tuesday voted 33-1 to send identical House and Senate medical marijuana bills to Gov. Donald L. Carcieri.
Although the governor has vowed to veto the legislation, the Senate and House approved it by large enough margins to override him. Last week, the House approved the bills 51-10. The General Assembly needs a 60 percent vote to override a gubernatorial veto.
The bills were approved Tuesday without debate. But before the session, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, blasted Carcieri for his veto vow, claiming the governor was being hypocritical.
Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said Carcieri opposed the bill, in part, because it would place law enforcement officials in a compromising position because federal law still bans marijuana.
But Perry said that last year the governor had no hesitation in signing legislation allowing Rhode Islanders to buy cheaper prescription drugs in Canada despite a federal law prohibiting that practice.
Neal said the two bills were fundamentally different. He cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that state medical marijuana laws did not protect people from federal prosecution.
"There is no federal law that prohibits an individual from purchasing, possessing or using drugs from Canada," Neal said. "It (puts) distributors at risk of some federal action, but not individual Rhode Islanders.
"Secondly, the Canadian drug bill is about helping hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders access safe, affordable scientifically proven medication. The medical marijuana bill is designed to help a very small, comparatively, segment of the Rhode Island public access a substance that has not been approved by the federal government ... and which has not been scientifically concluded to have proven benefits."
The legislation would allow those with written authorization from their doctor to obtain identification cards from the state Department of Health that would protect them from state prosecution for using marijuana. Covered medical conditions would include cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and Crohn's disease.
An approved patient would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of "useable marijuana," which does not include stems and seeds, or grow up to 12 marijuana plants. The legislation requires that the plants be grown indoors.
The legislation has a two-year sunset provision, meaning it will expire on June 30, 2007, unless the legislature extends it. The bill requires the Department of Health to issue a progress report on the law to the legislature before the law expires.
Sen. Marc Cote, D-Woonsocket, voted against the bill.
A recent Zogby poll indicated that 69 percent of Rhode Islanders support a medical marijuana law.
Source: Newport Daily News, The (RI)
Author: Joe Baker, Daily News Staff
Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Newport Daily News