Rhode Island Legalizes Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island on Tuesday became the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana and the first since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that patients who use the drug can still be prosecuted under federal law.

House lawmakers voted 59-13, with one abstention, to override a veto by Gov. Don Carcieri, allowing people with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or buy or 2.5 ounces of marijuana to relieve their symptoms. The law requires them to register with the state and get a photo identification card.

Federal law prohibits any use of marijuana, but Maine, Vermont, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington allow it to be grown and used for medicinal purposes.

The U.S. high court ruled on June 6 that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it can still be prosecuted under federal drug laws.

Federal authorities conceded they were unlikely to prosecute many medicinal users, and Rhode Island lawmakers pressed on, passing their medical marijuana bill on June 7.

Carcieri vetoed it, and the state Senate voted the next day to override his veto, but the House recessed before following suit. Tuesday's House vote came just before the start of the 2006 session, allowing the law to take effect immediately.

Rep. Thomas Slater, D-Providence, and Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, introduced the legislation last year after watching family members suffer from terminal illnesses.

Perry's nephew died last January of AIDS. Although marijuana may have relieved his suffering, he never used it because it was illegal, she said.

Slater has cancer and several of his family members who died from it. He said he doesn't need marijuana now, but it could be part of his treatment in the future.

"I'm sure everybody in this room knows at least one person who would have benefited from medical marijuana," he said before the vote.