RI Assembly overrides veto on marijuana compassion centers

June 17, 2009 – Rep. Thomas Slater gets a standing ovation on the House floor after a vote to override the governor’s veto of his bill to create compassion centers in the state for the distribution of marijuana for medical use.Picture 33

Rhode Island became the third state in the country Tuesday to allow the sale of marijuana for medical purposes.

The House and Senate easily overrode Governor Carcieri’s veto of bills that would permit up to three dispensaries that advocates have dubbed “compassion centers.”

In 2006, the General Assembly permanently legalized the use of medical marijuana. Doctors could prescribe it for critically ill patients. But there was no legal way to buy the drug, leaving patients or their caregivers to grow it, or buy it on the street.

“For the more than 600 Rhode Islanders who rely on medical marijuana to help relieve the unimaginable suffering that some diseases cause, or to relieve their nausea enough to take food, this will provide not only relief and safety, but also dignity,” said Rep. Thomas C. Slater, who sponsored the bill in the House and is himself battling advanced cancer.

“Sick people should not be forced to associate with drug dealers and the dark underbelly of society to get the help they need. I’m glad we’re finally recognizing their right to access marijuana safely, legally and without needless shame or fear,” said Slater, a Providence Democrat.

In late May, the House approved Slater’s bill by a 63-to-5 vote. An identical bill sponsored by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry passed the Senate on June 9 by a vote of 31 to 2. Although both votes indicated a veto-proof majority, Governor Carcieri vetoed them on June 12, saying “the increased availability, along with a complacent attitude, will no doubt result in increased usage, and will negatively impact the children of Rhode Island.” He also said the dispensaries would complicate the jobs of law enforcement officers and create a perception that Rhode Island is complacent against illegal drugs.

“We still have our same concerns,” Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe said after Tuesday’s overrides. “The administration believes there are a lot of issues that should be looked at legislatively before we proceed.”

She cited concerns for the safety of patients who will use compassion centers. “They’re easy targets, walking out with medicinal marijuana –– two blocks later they’re being mugged.”

California has compassion centers where patients with a prescription can buy marijuana legally, but those dispensaries were not created by legislation and are not regulated. Earlier this year, New Mexico became the only state to license nonprofit producers of medical marijuana.

At least one national marijuana advocacy group hailed Rhode Island’s veto override as historic. “Now that the Obama administration has announced a policy change,” said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, “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.”

States now considering creation of state-licensed dispensaries include Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and a ballot initiative is being circulated in Arizona, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. This November, Maine voters will consider a ballot initiative to add dispensaries to the state’s medical marijuana law.

After Tuesday’s vote — the first override of the year — Slater assured his colleagues the forthcoming centers will be monitored. “I know many of you had hesitation over this bill, but I can assure you we will have consistent oversight so nothing goes wrong.”

By Donita Naylor and CYNTHIA NEEDHAM. Source.

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