The Rhode Island legislature Wednesday easily overrode Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto of a bill that will create medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The override vote was a unanimous 68-0 in the House and a punishing 35-3 in the Senate.
Rhode Island will now become the third medical marijuana state to allow for patients to be supplied through a dispensary system. The other two states are California and New Mexico. With the override, Rhode Island becomes the first state to expand an existing medical marijuana program to allow for state-licensed dispensaries. California voters did it at the polls, and in New Mexico, dispensary provisions were written into the law passed by the legislature.
"This gives a safe haven for those who have to go into the seedy areas to try and get marijuana," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), who suffers from cancer and has said he plans to smoke the drug for pain relief. "I think that this center will definitely help those who most need it," he added as he received a standing ovation from the House floor.
"Our hard work has paid off," said Jesse Stout, director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. "Within a year, the Department of Health will license a nonprofit compassion center to grow and distribute medical marijuana for patients."
"We are seeing a historic shift to allowing state-licensed, regulated medical marijuana production and distribution," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backed the effort. "Combining regulated distribution with provisions for patients to grow a limited quantity for themselves is the best way to assure safe access for patients, with solid safeguards to prevent abuse."
Other states where pending medical marijuana bills include dispensary provisions include Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In Arizona, a ballot initiative with similar language is circulating, while in Maine, voters will vote in November on an initiative to add dispensaries to that state's law.
"During the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California, leaving states hesitant to set up state-regulated distribution," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "Now that the Obama administration has announced a policy change, state legislators seem to feel safer adopting a sensible, regulated system of medical marijuana distribution that avoids the mistakes of California, where dispensaries sprang up with no rules. This is a historic step forward."