Providence — A bill that would allow patients with serious diseases to smoke and grow marijuana continued its advance through the General Assembly, winning overwhelming support from House lawmakers Wednesday.
Qualifying patients suffering from diseases like cancer, AIDS and Hepatitis C would be shielded from arrest and prosecution under the bill, which passed 52-10. Their doctors and physicians also would be protected.
Rhode Island would become the 11th state to authorize the medical use of marijuana, according to the legislation.
If approved, the bill could put the state at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled earlier this month that medical marijuana users can be prosecuted under federal law even if their home states allow use of the drug.
Under the bill, patients would be able to possess up to 12 marijuana plants or 21/2 ounces of usable marijuana under the legislation.
Supporters say the bill provides a compassionate way to ease the pain of the seriously ill. But some raised concerns over how patients would access marijuana and questioned a provision allowing people to grow the drug in their homes.
“For me, it has always been a matter of compassion — simple compassion,” said Rep. Steven Costantino, D-Providence. “And I've always been amused by the fear that this is going to cause all of a sudden” an out-of-control use of marijuana.
Added House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson, who voted for the bill: “We live in a pharmaceutically enhanced society — whether that's good, bad or indifferent. It's a fact of life.”
Gov. Don Carcieri has threatened to veto the legislation. But Rep. Thomas Slater, the bill's main sponsor, said he was confident that the bill had enough votes to override a veto.
“We hope that the governor realizes that the people of Rhode Island support this bill,” said Slater, D-Providence.
The medical marijuana act was named for state Sen. Rhoda Perry's nephew, the late Edward O. Hawkins, who died of complications from AIDS and lymphoma.
Perry is the sponsor of an equivalent Senate bill, which passed that chamber, 34 to 2, two weeks ago.
House Majority Leader Gordon Fox introduced an amendment to add Slater's name to the title of the legislation, citing his “tireless efforts advocating for people in need.”