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Pols Like Medical Marijuana


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Leaders of both the House and Senate say bills to extend the life of Rhode Island's medical marijuana law will likely pass this week, probably with enough votes to withstand a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri.

It could come to that, as the Carcieri administration has signaled it would veto the measure if it passes in its current form.

Rhode Island became the 11th state to permit the possession of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes by people with debilitating, chronic medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis that have been certified by a physician when the House passed a bill over the governor's veto in the first days of 2006. The Senate had voted to override the veto several months earlier.

The legislation coming up for a vote this week - the House is scheduled to vote today; the Senate on Thursday -- would eliminate a sunset clause written into the original law that would have caused it to expire on June 30.

The House had originally been set to vote on the bill last week, but it was yanked from the calendar at the last minute so it could be tweaked to address the objection of some legislators who felt the language on the amounts of marijuana patients and their caregivers could possess at any one time were too vague, according to Rep. Thomas Slater of Providence. Slater is the prime House sponsor of the bill that was named for him and Edward O. Hawkins, nephew of Sen. Rhoda Perry, the prime sponsor in the Senate.

After a series of negotiations with legislative leaders, the bill was amended to clarify how much of the drug certified patients and caregivers are allowed to possess. A patient, who must be certified by a physician, can designate up to two primary caregivers to assist them in procuring and using the drug. A caregiver can serve up to five patients.

A patient may possess no more than 2.5 ounces of "useable marijuana" under the law, or up to 12 plants. A caregiver can possess the same amount if he or she assists one patient, but no matter how many patients he or she assists, can possess no more that five ounces or 24 plants.

A caregiver must be at least 21 years of age and not have a felony drug conviction. There had been an amendment proposed to allow a person to be a caregiver if his or her felony arrest occurred more than 10 years ago, but that was eliminated to allay the concerns of some of the recalcitrant legislators.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and the Rhode Island statute provides no way for patients or caregivers to obtain marijuana or seeds legally; it must be bought on the black market as are other illegal drugs.

The way the legislation is written now, Perry said, "No felon can do anything."

Perry acknowledged that, given the stance of the governor, the margin of passage will have to be veto proof. Does she think it will be?

"I'm hopeful," she said. "I'm never sanguine, but I'm always helpful."

Slater said he is satisfied with the legislation in its current form.

"The main object of the bill is to get the sunset clause off," Slater told The Times Tuesday. "If in other years we want to tweak it, fine. But let's get the sunset clause off so those it is helping now will continue to be helped. This gives us a bill that will pass both the House and Senate and will pass without any problems." He said it would pass with enough support to override a veto.

Slater noted that nearly 250 patients, and almost as many caregivers, have registered with the state Department of Health and to date only one problem has surfaced -- an Exeter man was arrested for attempting to contact young girls over the Internet using marijuana as bait. "He did carry a medical marijuana card, but his main purpose wasn't medical marijuana, his main purpose was lure young girls for sex games. He was over the limit, he should have been arrested."

Senate President Joseph Montalbano said the state has had "a good experience" with the law in its first year. "We certainly support the good it can do for those people who are suffering and the entire Senate, I believe, will support it. At least we have in the past."

"It's been working," said House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, one of those who have been negotiating amendments to the bill. "It has helped numerous people with debilitating diseases."

Will it pass with enough votes to overcome a veto?

"We'll see that vote (today)," Fox said. "But I think so."

Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said the governor "has expressed a number of concerns about the bill that was approved last year and if those concerns are not addressed in the bill now before the General Assembly, he expects he will have to veto it."

Neal said the bill "promotes the illegal drug trade" because there is no legal way for patients or caregivers to obtain the drug. There is no safety precaution as to the substance being used and there are insufficient restraints on who can grow and possess marijuana and how much.

"Finally," Neal said, "the root of all these problems is that marijuana remains illegal under federal law."

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: The Pawtucket Times (RI)
Author: Jim Baron
Copyright: 2007 The Pawtucket Times
Website: The Pawtucket Times
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