Medical marijuana patients and advocates had a big day Wednesday as the states of Minnesota, New Hampshire and Rhode Island all voted and passed medical marijuana bills aimed at seriously ill patients. A similar bill in Illinois was expected to be voted on as well, but was delayed so the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Haine, could amend the bill to address the concerns of some law enforcement officials. If the Minnesota, New Hampshire and Illinois bills become law, it would make 16 states with legal medical marijuana in the U.S (Rhode Island already passed a medical marijuana law in 2006). Here is a more detailed look at each bill and its current status to become law:
Minnesota’s Senate passed a medical marijuana bill with a 36-28 vote. The vote drew a heated debate that lasted many hours before the vote. Most criticism came from law enforcement officials despite Sen. Steve Murphy claim that “over 50 suggestions from law enforcement” were put into the bill. Murphy also noted that law enforcement refused to sit down with him to talk about issues with the current revised bill. One law maker, Sen. Julie Rosen, decided to invoke the flawed “gateway theory” by saying “Marijuana is not an herbal medicine. It is a gateway to drugs. I don’t even know why we are debating this!” Today’s vote was technically made by the “Senate’s Committee of the Whole”, and needs an official vote that will probably take place later this week, before making its way to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has indicated he will veto the bill.
The New Hampshire Senate joined the House in passing their medical marijuana bill with a 14-10 vote. Th Senate vote Wednesday sent the bill back to the House to review relatively minor changes. If the House endorses the changes and Gov. John Lynch signs the bill, New Hampshire would be the 14th state to legalize medicinal marijuana. If you live in New Hampshire, Marijuana Policy Project urges you to send Gov. John Lynch a fax asking him to allow the bill to become law.
The Rhode Island Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill, 35-2, that would establish “compassion centers” to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients. Rhode Island became the eleventh state in the country to legalize marijuana use for the chronically ill in 2006. But lawmakers never explained how patients could get the drug and its sale remained 100% illegal. Sen. Rhoda Perry’s bill aims to close a gray area in state law and allow patients safe access to their medication.
More than 60 religious leaders are supporting the Illinois bill that would allow patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation and without criminal consequences. If passed, the legislation would create a three-year pilot program allowing the state Department of Public Health to give registry identification cards to people with doctors’ recommendations for cannabis. Eligible patients would be entitled to seven dried cannabis plants and 2 ounces of dried usable cannabis. Many law enforcement officials and the pro drug-war group “Educating Voices” have announced a press conference at the Statehouse Thursday at 10 a.m. to argue against the bill.