Senate Judiciary Committee Hears MMJ Testimony

Senate Judiciary Committee Hears MMJ Testimony
Posted by CN Staff on April 06, 2005 at 07:55:34 PT
By Mary-Catherine Lader 
Source: Brown Daily Herald
Rhode Island -- Chronically ill Rhode Islanders, medical experts and advocates testified in favor of the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon at the State House. Although State Sen. Leo Blais, R, expressed animated opposition to the bill early into the proceedings, there were no witnesses testifying against the measure.
If passed, the bill will allow chronically ill individuals and their caregivers to acquire and cultivate marijuana with protection from prosecution and arrest. Qualifying medical conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and illnesses that cause severe symptoms alleviated by marijuana use, such as nausea or seizures. Ten states have passed similar measures, most through voter initiatives, but medical use of the drug remains illegal at the federal level."We believe this bill is about compassion for those with serious illness and those on the precipice of dying," said the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Rhoda Perry P'91, a Democrat who represents College Hill and serves on the judiciary committee. The committee's chair, Sen. Michael McCaffrey, D, and two of its other members, Democratic Senators Michael Damiani and Joseph Polisena, are co-sponsors - a "very rare" combination, Polisena said.Despite such pre-existing support, legislators questioned each witness and raised concerns about whether the bill's language might allow for abuse of the drug. Each of the sponsors said at least once that they opposed the legalization of marijuana in general, and Polisena said he had "second thoughts" about the issue. "I need to be thoroughly convinced today," he said as the hearings began.Rhonda O'Donnell, a Warwick native diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nearly 11 years ago, told the committee that although she had not used marijuana to alleviate pain, she knew the substance would make a difference in her own daily life. "I urge you to avoid playing politics with medicine and pass this bill today," O'Donnell said. After O'Donnell's testimony, Blais voiced opposition to the measure in a speech that Perry later said was "nasty, hostile and partisan politics.""The holes in this legislation are large enough to drive a tank through," Blais said. "Anyone with a straight face who has a back spasm can qualify for medical marijuana (if the bill is passed)."As a pharmacist, Blais said he believed there was "no accepted medical value in any study" that demonstrated marijuana was a uniquely useful substance. "We are a society of laws, and we are fooling ourselves and our constituents if we pretend it is OK to violate federal law because of ... compassion," he said, and left the hearing.After Blais' departure, two medical professionals and a neuroscience professor testified to marijuana's medical value. A breast cancer survivor and Tourette's syndrome sufferer also testified to the relief marijuana would have for their respective conditions. Dr. David Lewis, founder of Brown's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies and a current professor of medicine, said that some medical organizations oppose medical marijuana because of the unlikelihood of FDA approval and danger of smoking in general, but allowing it "really makes sense for patients."Lewis dismissed Polisena's concerns that by not definitively listing the conditions eligible for legal marijuana use, the bill would allow increased use of the drug through unwarranted prescriptions. "Medical judgment should not be replaced by detailed language," Lewis said.J. Michael Walker, formerly chair of the psychology department at Brown and currently a professor at the University of Indiana, said his research into cannabinoids "shows clearly that these compounds behave like morphine.""Any suggestion these compounds are just making people high is absolutely incorrect," Walker said.The Director of AIDS Project R.I., Chris Butler, and the American Civil Liberties Union's Rhode Island Director also testified.Nathaniel Lepp '06, who had helped coordinate the witnesses' testimony as executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, said he was pleased with the hearing's outcome. "I think it will work out," Lepp said.Lepp said he was both unfazed and unsurprised by Blais' vocal opposition, particularly given the senator's occupation. "He sells pills to people for a living," Lepp said, adding that legalized medical use of marijuana would affect sales of pain medication.If passed by the judiciary committee, the bill will face a floor vote in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, 50 out of 75 legislators have expressed support for an identical bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tom Slater. Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 has made no statement on the matter. Though the bill can pass without his signature and override a veto with three-fifths of the votes of all those present, Lepp identified the governor's office as RIPAC's next major focus.In an effort to communicate citizen support for the bill, RIPAC will be canvassing and distributing postcards, urging voters to call or mail the governor's office and express support for the measure.Trevor Stutz '07, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, estimated that 15 SSDP supporters had attended the hearings from the University of Rhode Island and Brown. "Especially with the stigma that still lingers around a drug policy group, having tons of people show up at a three-hour Senate hearing and sit there the whole time is substantial," Stutz said.As the hearing drew to a close, Damiani explained his support for the bill despite his previous opposition to it and career as a police officer. "No one can accuse me of being soft on drugs. ... (But) in the past couple years I've watched a lot of people die from cancer," Damiani said. He added that there were a few "bugs" in the legislation but expressed confidence that they would be worked out."As long as smoking grass makes people who probably aren't going to be around much longer feel better, it's a halfway decent idea to me," Damiani said. Complete Title: Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Medical Marijuana TestimonySource: Brown Daily Herald, The (Brown, RI Edu)Author: Mary-Catherine Lader Published: Wednesday, April 6, 2005 Copyright: 2005 The Brown Daily HeraldContact: letters browndailyherald.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Medical Marijuana Information Links House & Senate To Hear MMJ Bill Believes There's Support for Marijuana Marijuana in Rhode Island
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on April 06, 2005 at 18:04:08 PT
John Tyler 
Yes I have noticed. I've noticed and realize more then ever we are headed in a bad and very dangerous direction. I've said it before that I'm glad I'm not just starting out in my adult life because it would be very hard to take.
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Comment #4 posted by John Tyler on April 06, 2005 at 17:48:20 PT
Compassion II
People who donít get the compassion angle obviously havenít been in a position yet where they could use some of it. Sorrow, pain and suffering come to each of us. Compassion from others goes a long way in healing. Speaking of compassion, have you been noticing that the Compassionate Convervatives have taken a drastic turn to the "dark side"?
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Comment #3 posted by mayan on April 06, 2005 at 15:48:13 PT
Compassion Vs. Laws
As a pharmacist, Blais said he believed there was "no accepted medical value in any study" that demonstrated marijuana was a uniquely useful substance. "We are a society of laws, and we are fooling ourselves and our constituents if we pretend it is OK to violate federal law because of ... compassion," he said, and left the hearing.I believe it is our responsibility to violate federal law because of...compassion. Looks like Blais is in the vast minority. Wonder how much he takes from the pharmaceutical companies? The antis are on the run!
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on April 06, 2005 at 10:39:34 PT
The Wonder of Cannabis
I agree runderwo. I have gone thru withdrawal from prescription narcotic drugs years ago and it's was a living hell. Cannabis doesn't act that way at all. Cannabis is kind and works but without the side effects of morphine.
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Comment #1 posted by runderwo on April 06, 2005 at 10:31:26 PT
"these compounds behave like morphine"
I think he ought to clarify that statement a bit more. If not, one could be led erroneously to believe that cannabis subjects the user to the same tolerance and withdrawal cycle that opiates do, that the side effects are equivalent, or that cannabis and opiates are useful for treating the same forms of pain - leading patients who were unsuccessful with opiate treatment to believe that cannabis would be no help either.
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