By KELSEY ABBRUZZESE Associated Press Writer
Jun 9th, 2009 | PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Rhode Island would be the third state in the nation and the first on the East Coast to allow nonprofit stores to sell marijuana to medical patients under legislation approved Tuesday by state lawmakers.
The state Senate voted 30-2 to adopt a measure permitting three stores to sell marijuana to more than 680 patients registered with the state Department of Health. It now heads to Gov. Don Carcieri, who has previously vetoed bills legalizing marijuana for medical use.
Since 2006, Rhode Island patients suffering from conditions including chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's disease have been able to possess up to 12 marijuana plants and 2.5 ounces of the drug in a usable form. But buying marijuana remains illegal under state law, creating difficulties for patients who tried to obtain the drug.
"The Rhode Island Statehouse is on the cutting edge of helping people with severe health care problems," said Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, who sponsored the Senate bill. "Now patients will not be subjecting themselves to any harassment because we will have a well-regulated mechanism that will grow and distribute the marijuana."
Twelve other states allow for the medicinal use of marijuana, but Rhode Island would become only the third -- after California and New Mexico -- to create dispensaries.
"I think what will happen, assuming that programs work smoothly, is that other states will follow the example," said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group in Washington. "As a couple of states do it and the sky doesn't fall, we'll see more of them move in that direction."
Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe said she could not comment on whether Carcieri would veto the measure, but the governor has larger concerns about weakening controlled substance laws and how to regulate the three "compassion centers."
The legislation has passed the House and Senate by veto-proof margins, with more than the 60 percent of lawmakers needed to overturn a veto.
The Rhode Island State Police have also voiced opposition to the measure, saying that authorities found California dispensaries to be drug trafficking organizations and fronts for organized crime.
George DesRoches, a Cranston native who smokes marijuana for chronic pain and fibromyalgia, said he's been held at gunpoint multiple times when trying to obtain the drug. DesRoches also said he's been robbed three times this year of the marijuana plants he grows.
DesRoches said approving dispensaries would help eliminate many of the issues for him and other patients.
"The number one advantage would be safety for all patients and availability for all patients. It's pretty simple," said DesRoches, who did not report the incidents to police.
Former President George W. Bush's administration had targeted California dispensaries, even if they complied with the state's marijuana law. However, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that President Barack Obama's administration would not target marijuana dispensers that follow state law.