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Rhode Island legislators approve medical marijuana bill over governor's veto

[JURIST] The Rhode Island General Assembly [official website] approved a medical marijuana bill [H 5359 text, PDF] Tuesday, overriding a veto from Governor Donald Carcieri [official website]. The legislation seeks to establish three state-licensed dispensaries to provide marijuana for patients who qualify. Patients will be issued a registry identification card and will be allowed to possess up to 12 mature plants and two and a half ounces of usable marijuana. Qualifying ailments include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Hepatitis C, wasting syndrome, severe chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, muscle spasms, and other medical conditions. Additionally, the legislation provides for patients to have caregivers that are allowed to possess and grow marijuana for patients' use, limiting a caregiver to five patients. The bill, which was approved unanimously [press release] in the state House and by a 35-3 vote in the Senate [official website], marks the third time state legislators overrode a governor's veto of medical marijuana legislation. Representative Thomas Slater, who is in treatment for cancer, sponsored the bill, saying:

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. 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
The law makes Rhode Island the third state to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, along with California and New Mexico. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition [advocacy website] stressed the importance of dispensaries [text], saying that not all patients in need will have a caregiver or the ability to produce their own marijuana, forcing them to obtain their medicine illegally and putting them at risk.

The approval of the legislation follows a recent US Department of Justice [official website] decision not to continue prosecuting [JURIST report] owners of medical marijuana facilities that do not violate state law. During the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration [official website] routinely raided medical marijuana dispensaries because they violated federal law. Raids occurred as recently as February [Washington Times report], to the disappointment of President Barack Obama, who, during his campaign, pledged to end raids [Boston Globe report]. Michigan became the most recent state to legalize the use of medical marijuana by passing a proposition [JURIST report] last November. The US Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Gonzales v. Raich [opinion text; JURIST report] upheld Congress's power to criminalize the growth and personal use of marijuana for medical purposes.

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