Another Victory For Marijuana Reformers: Medical Pot Stores In Rhode Island

In the latest advancement for marijuana law reformers, the Rhode Island state legislature today legalized medical marijuana stores in the state, overriding Gov. Don Carcieri's (R) veto.

The new law will take effect immediately. Legislators voted in favor of the measure by wide margins on several votes today (vetoes of both House and Senate bills were considered in each chamber): 67-0 and 64-0 in two votes in the House, and 35-3 in both House votes.

Carcieri had vetoed the legislation on Friday.

This marks yet another victory for marijuana reformers in 2009, a year that has seen major advancements toward the inclusion of marijuana reform in the mainstream political lexicon. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested a public debate on marijuana legalization in May, after the state's budget crisis and the Mexican drug war added some rationales to reform efforts. A Field poll showed 56 percent of Californians in support of outright legalization.

President Obama, who had pledged to back off federal raids on medical marijuana users and sellers, took office, and with him new drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, who doesn't support legalization but oversaw the implementation of a decriminalization program as Seattle's chief of police. The new administration is viewed in the marijuana reform community as much easier to work with than the previous one, and as having a friendlier approach to reformers' goals.

Rhode Island's action "is of actual significance because it is the first state to take an existing medical marijuana law and add state licensed dispensaries to it," Mariuana Policy Project Communications Director Bruce Mirken said.

"This is a direct result from a more enlightened policy from the administration," Mirken said, citing Attorney General Eric Holder's cessation of medical marijuana raids, in keeping with Obama's opposition to them, despite some Drug Enforcement Agency raids that were conducted soon after Obama transitioned into office.

Rhode Island is now the third state to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, along with California and New Mexico. New Mexico became the first state to issue a license for a dispensary in March, pursuant to legislation passed in 2008.