Last week, DRCNet reported on the status of marijuana-related legislation at the state houses this year (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/276.html#statehouse2003). In the days since then, one medical marijuana bill has been defeated in New Mexico, while two more have been introduced, in New York and Rhode Island.
In New Mexico, HB242, the Lynn Pierson Compassionate Use Act, failed in the House by a vote of 20-46, according to the New Mexico legislature's web site. The Thursday vote against the bill came just three days after the House Judiciary Committee passed it with a strong 9-1 vote. The bill had already passed the House Business and Industry Committee and the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee with "no recommendation."
The bill would have allowed seriously ill people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and certain spinal injuries to legally possess marijuana with a physician's recommendation. It would have also provided registry ID cards to patients who have their doctors' recommendations and to those patients' caregivers.
Despite testimony from patients who had seen their lives improved by medical marijuana, the New Mexico House seem more attuned to the position articulated by Rep. Ron Godbey (R-Cedar Crest), once the nemesis of drug reforming Gov. Gary Johnson, and still fighting the fight. "If smoking raw marijuana is a medicine, Dr. Kevorkian wrote the prescription," said Godbey, referring to euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
But while medical marijuana is dead this year in Montana (defeated last week) and New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island have now joined the roster of states where the issue is in play in the legislature. In New York, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D) and five other Democratic assembly members held a press conference Wednesday in Albany to announce the reintroduction of Gottfried's medical marijuana bill, A5796.
Under A5796, qualified medical marijuana patients would be able to receive a month's supply of marijuana from organizations authorized by the state Health Department to grow and distribute it. To qualify, patients would have to be certified by a physician as having a serious medical condition that could benefit from the use of marijuana. The certification would be good for one year, and the legislation implies a monthly limit of under eight ounces.
"This ought to be a medical issue between a patient and a patient's health care professional," said Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, where the bill is pending. "It should not be the business of the legislature or the police department."
Although 28 Assembly members have signed onto the bill, its prospects remain cloudy. It has no sponsor in the Republican-controlled Senate, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) told the Schenectady Gazette he saw no indication the chamber would soon tackle the issue. Similarly, a spokesman for Gov. George Pataki (R) said Wednesday that the governor believed other alternatives could provide the benefits claimed by medical marijuana.
New York Republicans have turned a deaf ear to medical marijuana despite strong public support for it, as indicated most recently in a Zogby Poll conducted for New Yorkers for Compassionate Care, a group pushing the legislation. According to the poll, conducted January 23-26, 66% of voters support medical marijuana legislation similar to Gottfried's, while only 37% believed legalizing medical marijuana "sends the wrong message" about drug abuse.
Gottfried or others have introduced similar bills each year since 1997.
A week before Gottfried stood on the steps at Albany, five Rhode Island state senators cosponsored medical marijuana legislation in that state. SB0725, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, would allow persons suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn's Disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, intractable pain, or "any other medical condition duly approved by the Rhode Island board of medical licensure" to legally use and possess medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill also provides explicit protections for physicians who make such recommendations.
Under SB07225, patients would be limited to an unspecified 60-day supply of medical marijuana and would be protected from asset forfeiture or seizure of their medicine upon showing proof that they have complied with the bill's provisions. The bill has no provisions regarding the source of patients' medical marijuana supplies.
The Medical Use of Marijuana Act was introduced by a bipartisan group, including Senators Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), Elizabeth Roberts (D-Cranston, Warwick), June Gibbs (R-Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton, Newport), Juan Pichardo (D-Providence) and Frank Ciccone (D-Providence).
Visit http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A05796 to view the New York bill online.
Visit http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/billtext/billtext03/senatetext03/s0725.pdf to view the Rhode Island bill online.