The tiny state of Rhode Island took a big step last week when the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing nonprofit associations to “acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver, transfer, transport, supply, or dispense marijuana” to legal patients. The Senate has already adopted a similar bill, and the 63 to 5 margin in the House makes the bill veto-proof. Patients and caregivers in Rhode Island may be the first to acquire medicine from 100% legal dispensing associations.
The significance of this should not be lost on lawmakers in Washington, DC – or in cities and counties in California. More than twelve years have passed since California voters approved the nation’s first statewide compassionate use law. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has raided hundreds of patients’ associations in California since then. Providers have been arrested, prosecuted, and even jailed. Despite a brief respite from DEA raids and indications of reform from the new Administration, there is still along way to go in defining the new “American policy” announced by Attorney General Eric Holder in February.
State and local representatives also have work to do. Too few of California’s cities and counties have adopted ordinances like the provisions that will soon become law in Rhode Island, despite the fact that research by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) indicates sensible regulations reduce crime and complaints around patients’ associations. Far too many jurisdictions have banned safe access altogether by prohibiting dispensing collectives and cooperatives outright. That flies in the faces of common sense and leaves legal patients at the mercy of a dangerous and unregulated illicit market. The example of Rhode Island should make it clear that regulating safe access is the path forward.
Patients and their loved ones can hope that Congress, other states, and local government follow in the trail blazed by our smallest state. Most Americans believe that cannabis is medicine. It is past time for their elected representatives to catch up and adopt the guidelines that make the voters’ will a reality for patients all over the country.