Bill Seeks to Eliminate Caregivers

A new senate bill, S0791, would eliminate caregivers and create two “for-profit” entities that will grow and sell cannabis to the compassion centers. You can view the bill:  http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0791.pdf  (if link does not work, please copy and paste into your browser).  So far, there is no House version of the bill. The difference between this bill and previous bills that have attacked grow rights, is that this bill was NOT initiated by the Attorney General or any public official. This bill was filed at the request of private FOR PROFIT BUSINESS INTERESTS who have the means to hire TWO lobbyists. Our understanding is that Rhode Island Growers and Distributors is paying lobbyists 11,000 dollars a month. Those lobbyists are both former members of the Legislature.  You can view the lobbyists’ report at :  https://www.lobbytracker.sos.ri.gov/Public/LobbyingReports.aspx  (if link is not working, please cut and paste into your browser).  This bill would be a disaster for thousands of patients who are rely on caregivers. Unclear why anyone would think this bill is a good idea (with the exception of the cultivation center owners who are profit motivated). The compassion centers can already, due to legislation enacted last year, grow as many plants as they believe their patients need. Why would RI need two for profit cultivation centers to grow for the compassion centers when the law already allows the compassion centers to be their own cultivation centers? It is also not clear what the cultivation centers would do with all that cannabis if the compassion centers don’t want it.

The RI Medical Marijuana Program was established to help patients suffering from severe debilitating medical conditions. It was an act of compassion led by the late Representative Thomas C. Slater and former Senator Rhoda Perry.  As the Program expands and the prospect of legalization grows, more and more people are looking to the Medical Marijuana Program as a business opportunity. This bill is the most extreme example we have seen, so far, of opportunism at the expense the patients.

If this bill were to become law, caregivers would cease to exist the day it was passed. Caregivers would immediately lose all protections. Plants throughout the state would be destroyed and thousands of patients would be stranded, with no access to their medicine. While the compassion centers are an important option, they are not for everyone. Unlike other medications, there is no third party reimbursement, no insurance companies covering the costs of MMj. A significant portion of the patients in this Program are disabled and living on less than 1,000 dollars a month. Caregivers throughout the state are taking care of their family members, neighbors and/or friends because they care about them. They are not making any money. In fact, a substantial number do not even ask their patients to reimburse them for expenses because they know that their patients are struggling financially and/or are extremely sick. There are also hundreds of caregivers who are taking care of patients who came to them as strangers with no money and in need of help.. Good caregivers are the unsung heroes of this Program. They do not want attention, ask for little and thrive on the satisfaction of watching cannabis ease their patients’ suffering, prolong their lives, free them from opiates, and give them and their families a better quality of life. There are just some things that money cannot buy. The Rhode Island MMj Program is full of good people quietly taking good care of others.  It is the best of Rhode Island and the best of humanity. This bill, S0791 would destroy that.

A caregiver who is growing for his brother with stage 4 cancer would have to stop growing the only medicine that makes it possible for his brother to function. A caregiver who is helping her sister, who is suffering from the unbearable effects of advanced MS, would have to destroy the plants the day this bill is passed. Of course, many caregivers will never abandon their patients and they will continue to grow and they will be prosecuted as if they were drug dealers. We will be back to where we were before the Medical Marijuana Act was enacted in 2006.

What can you do?  Pick up the phone now. Call your state senator. Educate them. Some senators only know about the arrests and problems in the Program.  You know more. Help them to see the Program through your eyes. How will they know if we don’t tell them? They may be thinking all patients can just grow their own medicine or go to compassion centers. “Why do we need caregivers? What’s the big deal?”  Explain to them what will happen to patients if good caregivers disappear. How will senators know about the importance of caregivers unless we tell them?

Please call your STATE senator – not Senators Sheldon Whitehouse or Jack Reed. They are federal. Not Representatives Langevin or Cicilline. They are federal and have nothing to do with this bill. If you do not know who your state senator is, now is a good time to find out. You can call your local town or city hall and they will likely tell you or you can go to the Voter Info Center:  https://sos.ri.gov/vic/    If you scroll down, you can put in your address and find out who your state senator is.  While you are at it, you should also find out who your state representative is.  So far, this bill is only in the Senate. If the lobbyists find a sponsor, it will soon be in the House so be prepared to contact your state representative as well.

The lead sponsor of the bill is Senator Ciccone from North Providence. The other sponsors are Senators Lombardi from Cranston, McCaffrey from Warwick (district 29), Felag (who represents Bristol, Tiverton, and Warren), and Walaska (Warwick, district 30). This bill will have a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Senator McCaffrey is the chairperson of the committee.  Senator Lombardi is a member. Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed is the President of the Senate. They are key in determining the fate of this bill.

If you need contact info for a Senator click on: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/senators/default.aspx

Please keep in mind that if you are involved with the MMj Program, you know more than the Senator you are calling.  Many of us are angry and with good reason. It is important to keep that anger in check while advocating for patients and caregivers.  Callers who are perceived as “obnoxious” will hurt more than help. If we take our anger out on the person we are trying to educate, we will not succeed.

Please check our website, www.RIpatients.org for updates.

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