After the Supreme Court issued its ruling allowing the federal government to go after patients and providers in medical marijuana states, drug czar John Walters chortled that medical marijuana is "dead" as a political issue. But legislators in Rhode Island must not have been listening. On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Senate passed a medical marijuana bill by the most impressive margin ever recorded on such a vote, 34-2. A companion bill in the House will be amended to conform to the Senate bill, and could come up for a House committee vote as early as next week, the Providence Daily News reported.
But even if the bill passes the lower chamber, it faces a veto from Gov. Donald Carcieri. A Carcieri spokesman claimed the governor was taking no position on the medical benefits or health risks of marijuana, but was concerned about the well-being of Rhode Islanders. "This would give Rhode Islanders a false sense of security, placing them in jeopardy of federal prosecution," said spokesman Jeff Neal, noting the US Supreme Court's ruling Monday. Neal said the governor was also concerned about "a number of very significant loopholes" in the bill, including a provision that would direct the Health Department to automatically issue licenses to any qualifying nonprofit allowing it to grow and distribute marijuana. Finally, Neal said, Carcieri was concerned that state police officers would be placed in an "untenable position" because they are supposed to uphold federal laws.
Sponsored by Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), the bill would allow patients with "a debilitating medical condition" to obtain a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana. Under the bill, the state Health Department would issue licenses to qualifying patients and organizations. Patients would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and could grow up to 12 plants.
The sponsor of the House version of the bill told the Daily News the vote Tuesday showed that Rhode Island legislators understood the Raich decision was not a bar to passing the bill. "This isn't about federal court rulings," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence). "This is about compassion for people who need help."
"Even though the Supreme Court won't protect patients like me, it's gratifying to see that my state lawmakers will," said Rhonda O'Donnell, a multiple sclerosis sufferer from Warwick who has testified in favor of both Rhode Island bills. "The Supreme Court told us to take our fight to the legislature, and that's what we're doing. I will keep fighting until Governor Carcieri signs this compassionate legislation."