‘Compassion Centers’ for Distributing Marijuana?

‘Compassion Centers’ for Distributing Marijuana?
Posted by CN Staff on March 06, 2009 at 07:41:24 PT
By Jim Baron
Source: Woonsocket Call
Providence, RI -- Without committing to bringing the bill out of the House Health Education and Welfare Committee that he chairs, Warwick Rep. Joseph McNamara said he looks more kindly this year toward a bill that would establish state-authorized dispensaries to distribute medical marijuana.The Senate passed legislation last year to create the “compassion centers,” but the House HEW committee, upon McNamara’s recommendation, amended the bill to establish a commission to study the issue.
The amended bill passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Donald Carcieri.Providence Rep. Thomas Slater implored McNamara to allow the bill out of committee without creating a study commission. Slater is a champion of medical marijuana legislation in the General Assembly; his name is in the title of the bill that authorized patients with certain chronic and debilitating diseases and their caregivers to possess up to 2.5 ounces of the otherwise illegal substance. They may also have up to 12 plants, if they have a recommendation from a medical doctor and obtain certification from the state health department.If he can get the bill out of committee, Slater said he has rounded up enough votes to get it passed on the House floor and sent to the Senate.McNamara told reporters after the hearing that “I am looking at it much more favorably than I looked at it last year; the questions I had have been answered.” But when asked if the bill would get a vote in committee, he answered, “I don’t know at this point in time. There are 14 members on the committee; we will have discussions on it. I will poll the committee and see if there is support for it this year.”The committee took a routine vote to hold the bill on Wednesday.Jesse Stout is executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, a pro-medical marijuana group.He said creation of the compassion centers “would solve the supply problem we have with medical marijuana by taking it away from the black market altogether. The Department of Health would simply license a non-profit compassion center to grow and distribute marijuana for patients.”Stout said the centers would have to meet strict requirements for record-keeping and security.He produced statistics showing there are currently 602 registered medical marijuana patients spread throughout the state and 504 caregivers. The patients have been certified by 229 different physicians.According to health department numbers distributed by Stout there are 36 patients in Pawtucket, 23 in Woonsocket, 12 in Cumberland, 10 in Lincoln, 7 in North Smithfield, 9 in Burrillville, 7 in Glocester, 19 in West Warwick and 29 in Coventry.Committee members expressed surprise when witnesses said they use up to an ounce of the drug a week and that an ounce of marijuana on the street can cost $400 to $500.They said they were concerned about the safety of the often-fragile patients once they obtain the drug and leave the compassion centers, but the legislation calls for security measures in and around the facilities.A compassion center is defined in the legislation as “a not-for-profit entity ... that acquires, possesses, cultivates, manufactures, delivers, transfers, transports, supplies or dispenses marijuana, or related supplies and educational materials to registered qualifying patients and their registered primary caregivers.”More than a dozen people testified in favor of the bill during a hearing that lasted more than an hour Wednesday. Unlike last year, nobody spoke against passage of the measure, including representatives of law enforcement.Several witnesses pointed to a recent statement by new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that, as a matter of policy, federal agents would no longer raid medical marijuana facilities or dispensaries.A card from the health department protects patients and caregivers from arrest for possessing specified amounts of marijuana, but they are on their own to find and purchase the drug from street dealers.Dr. David Lewis, professor emeritus at Brown University in medicine and community health, told the panel that establishing a compassion center “would be a terrific move for Rhode Island at this point” because it would add “an element of safety.“There is no logic to deny this to people who are suffering,” Lewis said. “I can’t see why you wouldn’t do it.” He said Rhode Island “has taken a leadership role” on this issue.“I think it is more or less settled by the National Academy of Science that the use of medical marijuana works for a whole number of conditions,” he added. As for concern that medical marijuana use would lead to an increase in the use of other drugs, Lewis said, “there was never any evidence for that.”Dr. Todd Handel, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation who has recommended medical marijuana to some of his patients, told the panel, “I can’t tell patients how to use it, how much to use or where to get it. I can’t send them to Walgreens or CVS; I can only tell them it is available on the street.”Handel echoed several witnesses who gave first-hand testimony saying that the use of marijuana allowed patients to reduce or eliminate the use of opiate painkillers for their various conditions.But patients say obtaining their medicine can be dangerous.“None of you have ever had to face the barrel of a gun in an attempt to get medication,” said George DesRoches of Warwick. “I have, on seven occasions. I have also been robbed; once blatantly where all my medications, savings and marijuana were stolen, leaving me almost destitute for two months.”Polly Reynolds, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said “the one thing that helps me more than anything else I have been given is marijuana.”One problem, she said, is “you never know what the marijuana you are buying is composed of. I would love to be getting something that is stamped, labeled, consistent and available openly. I think compassion centers are a wonderful idea.”An identical Senate bill was also heard Wednesday by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.Source: Call, The (Woonsocket, RI)Author: Jim BaronPublished: March 5, 2009Copyright: 2009 The CallContact: news woonsocketcall.comWebsite: Article:Bill Would License Dispensaries To Sell Marijuana
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