Rhode Island 11th State to Legalize Medical
Jan 4, 2006, By Brendan Coyne © The NewStandard (NY)
Rhode Island -- - Defying the state’s governor, the Rhode Island House of Representatives yesterday voted 59–13 to override the veto of a medical marijuana legalization measure approved earlier this year. In so doing, the nation’s smallest state joined ten others in bucking the federal government’s Supreme Court-backed prohibition against using the plant even for medicinal purposes. Last summer, both houses of the state’s General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill permitting patients possessing a state-issued identification card to grow marijuana plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of the dried plant for medicinal purposes.
Governor Donald L. Carcieri vetoed the bill at the end of June, warning that the measure "will increase the availability of marijuana on the streets" of Rhode Island.
Prior to recessing, the Rhode Island Senate voted to override the veto, setting the stage for yesterday’s afternoon vote by the House of Representatives.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the state is just the third in the nation to shield medical marijuana users from prosecution via the legislative process. Voters in eight other states have used ballot initiatives to force their state governments to enact such laws.
Rhode Island is also the first to pass medical-marijuana legislation since the Supreme Court ruled last year that state laws permitting medicinal use of marijuana do not shield users from arrest or prosecution by the federal government.
In a statement yesterday, Gov. Carceiri reiterated his opposition to the new law, stating that the bill fails to erect a legal purchasing method, does not mandate storage and cultivation areas and provides an overly broad definition of medically acceptable uses. In addition, the governor said: "This bill appears to violate federal law. Consequently, it will subject Rhode Islanders to prosecution by the federal government."
Legislators OK Medical Use of Marijuana
Providence, R.I. -- For about half his life, Warren Dolbashian has been a criminal. The 34-year-old Cranston man has been smoking marijuana since he was 17 to combat symptoms of Tourette's syndrome. Pot greatly eased the violent tics associated with this neuropsychiatric disorder. Dolbashian found it worked better than the pharmaceuticals prescribed by his doctors.
"Something must be working because I'm standing here and there are no tics," a smiling Dolbashian said Tuesday standing in a Statehouse hearing room.
Dolbashian was happy because on Tuesday Rhode Island became the 11th state in the nation to legalize the use of marijuana by patients with debilitating diseases. Earlier that afternoon, the General Assembly overrode Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's veto of the medical-marijuana legislation.
"It'll be a big weight off my back when I can have that relief without worrying about the door being busted down (by police)," Dolbashian said.
The Senate overrode Carcieri's veto of the Senate version of the bill before the General Assembly recessed for the year last July, but the House did not. On Tuesday, House leaders took up the override before officially adjourning the 2005 session. The 59-13 vote easily surpassed the 60 percent majority needed to override the veto. Both the House and Senate voted to override the veto of the House version Tuesday.
That vote made Rhode Island the first state to enact a medical marijuana statute since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last July that federal law prohibiting marijuana use trumped state laws allowing the medical use of the drug.
"The states should lead the way and not follow the federal government," House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, said.
Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal issued a statement reiterating the governor's opposition to the legislation, saying it had "serious flaws." One problem is that since the law does not provide patients with any legal way to buy marijuana, they would have to find dealers, who would not be protected by the law. Definitions of who would qualify for using medical marijuana were too broad, the governor said, and federal law could still prosecute users.
But proponents hailed the override, insisting it simply was a show of compassion for people in desperate straits.
"There have been very, very few problems in any of the other 10 states (with similar laws)," said Senate sponsor Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence. "This will demonstrate that this is sage, compassionate and well-planned legislation. It's going to help so many people."
"Those medical marijuana laws are working well," said Rep. Thomas C. Slater, D-Providence, who sponsored the House bill. "The sky has not fallen and thousands of patients are living with less pain."
The bill passed despite what proponents called a last-ditch effort by dissident Democrats and some House Republicans to work up support for the governor's veto. State Rep. Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown, said he received pressure from the governor's office and House Republican leaders, but decided to support the bill.
"I certainly think it's right for state government to say to federal government, 'We don't like your law,'" Long said. "This was a really important issue to a small population of Rhode Islanders. I voted my heart."
State Reps. Joseph N. Amaral and John J. Loughlin II, both R-Tiverton, said they supported the governor in part because there was no way to regulate the quality of the marijuana patients would get from street dealers.
The state Department of Health now must develop regulations to implement the law within 90 days. Doctors can then recommend that their patients be allowed to use marijuana. Patients would apply for an identification card protecting them from prosecution for possessing up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Patients also could grow up to 12 marijuana plants at home for their own use. Patients also can have up to two caregivers, who would be able to legally help them procure marijuana.
HOW THEY VOTED
Local House representatives supporting the override were: Paul W. Crowley, D-Newport; Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown; J. Russell Jackson, D-Newport; Amy G. Rice, D-Portsmouth; and Raymond E. Gallison Jr., D-Bristol.
Reps. John J. Loughlin II and Joseph N. Amaral, both R-Tiverton, voted to support Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's veto.
All four Newport County senators - Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, June N. Gibbs, R-Middletown, Charles J. Levesque, D-Portsmouth, and Walter S. Felag, D-Warren - voted to override the governor's veto.
Please also read: Long Term Exposure To Cannabis
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