Tuesday, January 03, 2006


The New Year began with a belated Christmas present for medical marijuana users in Rhode Island on January 3, when the Rhode Island House of Representatives voted to override a veto of a medical marijuana law passed in 2005 by both houses of the state legislature.

The override of Governor Don Carcieri’s veto means that Rhode Island is the eleventh state to legalize medical marijuana.

The other states that have legalized marijuana for medical use are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

According to John Evans, a Rhode Island cancer patient who wants to grow medical marijuana to ease the discomfort of chemotherapy and cancer pain, the override of the governor’s veto proves that more and more politicians are showing “compassion and sanity” regarding use of the medical herb.

“Upon hearing this great news I am ordering some growing equipment and nutrients from this company where I chat with other patients who grow or use medical marijuana,” he said. “I made three phone calls, wrote letters and visited my legislator’s offices, so I feel like democracy worked pretty well here and now I am going to send thank you letters.”

The House overrode a veto by Gov. Don Carcieri, 59-13, allowing people with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana to relieve their symptoms. Those who do are required to register with the state and get an identification card. The Senate had previously voted to override the veto.

The bill was first passed by the Rhode Island House and Senate in June 2005, but Carcieri vetoed it, claiming that an earlier anti-marijuana ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Raich case would make Rhode Island’s legalization of medical marijuana an unwise law.

Carcieri and other opponents of the law said that the medical marijuana law would encourage Rhode Islanders to break federal marijuana laws and could put them at risk of federal prosecution.

The Raich decision authorized federal agents to continue to prosecute bona fide medpot patients, even in states where medical marijuana is legal. Indeed, the DEA and other federal agents have continued to attack medical cannabis users, growers and providers in states where medical cannabis is legal, most notably in California.

Rhode Island is the first state to legalize medical marijuana since the Raich decision. The timing of the vote, just prior to the start of the state's 2006 legislative session, means that the new law will be able to take effect immediately.

“I'm sure everybody in this room knows at least one person who would have benefited from medical marijuana," Rep. Thomas Slater, who has cancer, told fellow lawmakers before the vote. Slater said he does not use marijuana now, but it could become part of his treatment in the future.

Carcieri’s response to the veto override was to claim that the law doesn’t provide ways for users to buy marijuana legally and leaves Rhode Islanders open to federal prosecution.

"Users will be forced to purchase marijuana in the illegal street market, putting them at risk and complicating the difficult jobs that our law enforcement personnel must do every day," the governor said.

Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in Washington, said the vote showed "misguided and out-of-touch" views on the harms of marijuana.

"There's this notion from the '60s or the '70s that marijuana is a harmless drug," Riley said. "It's not."

Evans, who said he had been forced to procure medical marijuana at $500 an ounce from the black market, said that Riley and Carcieri “have no idea what they are talking about.”

“The fact is, the pharmaceutical drugs and the chemo and the cigarettes that gave me cancer are a lot worse for me than marijuana ever could be,” he said. “I don’t know what the marijuana from the 60’s and 70’s was like, and I don’t care. It’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that I can take a couple of puffs or eat some brownies, and I feel better than when they had me on morphine.”


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