Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island House Passes Dispensary Bill

A bill that would allow for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries passed the Rhode Island House Wednesday, paving the way for a showdown with Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, an opponent of medical marijuana. The state Senate passed its version of the bill last month. Now, the two chambers must go through the formality of approving each other's bills. Then the bill will go before the governor.

"To go through cancer, or to go through a debilitating disease is extremely, extremely hard," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), the bill's sponsor and a cancer patient himself. "One day you might feel great, the next day you may have pain all over your body... This bill gives people a safe haven to get help, to get medical marijuana."

Rhode Island lawmakers overrode a Carcieri veto three years ago to make medical marijuana legal in the state. But since then, patients have complained that the measure provided only limited access to marijuana. This year's bill, H5359, addresses that concern by providing for the creation of state-regulated "compassion centers" or dispensaries.

A similar bill passed the Senate last year, only to die in the House. Gov. Carcieri vetoed a compromise measure that would have set up a study commission on the dispensary issue. This year, the measure passed both houses by margins that strongly suggest lawmakers have the votes to override any veto attempt by the governor.

The House leadership appears ready to try an override if necessary. "I would hope that the governor wouldn't veto it, and look at the broader issues raised," said House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D-Providence). "But if he does I think we have the votes to override and I would advocate doing that."

Leading the push for the bill was the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), working with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Their and the legislature's work is not quite done, but they're almost there.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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