New plan to create supply of medical marijuana

EVERYONE, IT SEEMS knows someone who would like to use medical marijuana to cope with such debilitating illnesses as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

Medical marijuana proponents plan to seek General Assembly support this session to create an establishment, known as the Compassion Center, which, as the theory goes, would have state Department of Health backing to grow and distribute medical marijuana to approved patients.

While the outlook for such a measure remains uncertain -- at minimum, it would likely have to overcome a gubernatorial veto -- it would address the glaring shortcoming in Rhode Island's medical marijuana law.

As Te-Ping Chen wrote in the Phoenix last May,

Ironically, in contrast to the initial concerns cited by opponents, the main challenge facing medical marijuana users in Rhode Island is obtaining access to the drug. ....

Once a patient receives their physician’s approval, the Department of Health processes their application — none have been rejected thus far — and issues an ID card verifying their participant status. From there on, patients are on their own: the 2005 law famously did not specify how patients were to obtain the drug. And that, to both the program’s critics and supporters, remains its greatest problem.
As Michael Downs, director of prevention education for AIDS Project Rhode Island, puts it, the law has been a “great resource” for his agency’s clients, but lack of access places them in “something of a quandary.”
Major Steven O’Donnell of the Rhode Island State Police puts the matter more bluntly. “Basically, we’re telling patients to go buy drugs on the street,” O’Donnell says. “Even if the law works on behalf of people with medical need,” he says, “we’re asking them to put themselves in harm’s way.”
Bobby Ebert, who says he was assaulted in downtown Providence one night while trying to obtain marijuana, knows that this risk is no joke. But having dealt with pain for years, it’s something he takes in stride. “After all,” he says, “I’ve got a disease that could kill me tomorrow.”

Jesse Stout, executive director of the RI Patient Advocacy Coalition, sent me an e-mail earlier today, indicating the following:

The patients we represent have been asking us the same question -- 'Now that I can legally possess medical marijuana, where am I supposed to go get it?' Our friends in the House and Senate will soon be introducing legislation that would allow a nonprofit Compassion Center to be licensed by the Department of Health to grow and distribute marijuana to patients. The bill provides specific rules for how this independent Compassion Center will be regulated by the Department. Here at Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, we think this bill is a good solution for patients who need safe access to this medicine, but don't want to have to go to the criminal black market, and cannot grow it themselves because they are too sick or too poor.

The way in which a small predominantly Catholic state like Rhode Island backed medical marijuana in the first place is counter-intuitive, so it will be interesting to see how supporters fare with the latest effort.


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