PROVIDENCE, R.I. — 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.
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The House overrode a veto by Gov. Don Carcieri, 59-13, allowing people with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana to relieve their symptoms. Those who do are required to register with the state and get an 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 June 6 that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it can still be prosecuted under federal drug laws, even if their states allow it.
Federal authorities, however, have conceded they are unlikely to prosecute many medicinal marijuana users.
“I’m sure everybody in this room knows at least one person who would have benefited from medical marijuana,” Rep. Thomas Slater, who has cancer, told fellow lawmakers before the vote. Slater said he does not use marijuana now, but it could become part of his treatment in the future.
Carcieri, unhappy with the override, said the law fails to provide ways for users to buy marijuana legally and leaves Rhode Islanders open to federal prosecution.
“Users will be forced to purchase marijuana in the illegal street market, putting them at risk and complicating the difficult jobs that our law enforcement personnel must do every day,” the governor said.
Tom Riley, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, said the vote showed “misguided and out-of-touch” views on the harms of marijuana.
“There’s this notion from the ’60s or the ’70s that marijuana is a harmless drug,” Riley said. “It’s not.”
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