Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island Bill Approved in House Committee, Faces One Last Vote, But Governor Vows Veto 6/17/05

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On the same day the US House of Representatives voted to fund federal raids on medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal, legislators in a Rhode Island House of Representatives committee voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill, HB 6502, that would add Rhode Island to that list. A companion measure passed the state Senate last week, and the only legislative hurdle now facing the bill is a final vote in the full House. With 50 of 75 House members signed on as cosponsors, the bill appears headed for victory at the statehouse.

But Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri has threatened to veto the bill and, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which has been working closely with local activists on the measure, Carcieri's office has been giving medical marijuana supporters who call "rude treatment." MPP responded by debuting a TV ad campaign Wednesday that asks Rhode Islanders to call the governor and ask him to support the medical marijuana bill.

The ads feature Rhode Island registered nurse Rhonda O'Donnell, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and who testified at earlier hearings in support of the bill. In one ad, O'Donnell talks about her father, who once used marijuana to ease the pain of cancer. "People shouldn't have to fear arrest for trying to alleviate their pain," she said. A second spot shows O'Donnell discussing her own medical problems and urging voters to call the governor's office.

The ads have caused a response, the Pawtucket Times reported Thursday. A spokesman for Gov. Carcieri told the Times the office had received 174 phone calls on the issue Wednesday, "a very significant number of calls in one day." But when asked if the voter interest would sway the governor's thinking, he replied in one word: "No."

"The momentum for compassionate medical marijuana legislation in Rhode Island is tremendous," said Neal Levine, MPP director of state policies. "Rhode Island moved another giant step toward protecting its most vulnerable citizens today. Hopefully, the governor will follow the lead of the people, the legislature, and the state's leading medical organizations and support this bill."

No sign of that yet, but with the bill yet to pass the house and end up on the governor's desk, there is still time to change his mind.

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Issue #391 -- 6/17/05

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