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Rhode Island launches medical marijuana program

PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Rhode Islanders suffering from illnesses such as cancer and AIDS can begin applying for cards that let them legally use marijuana.

Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana in January. The law became effective Friday, when the state Health Department filed regulations with the Secretary of State's office, said Carol Hall-Walker, a health department spokeswoman.

The Medical Marijuana Program gives people with debilitating illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and glaucoma, photo identification cards that let them grow up to 12 marijuana plants or buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana to relieve their symptoms. They also can designate someone to grow or buy marijuana for them.

The program does not provide people with marijuana, and the law does not make it legal to sell marijuana in Rhode Island.

The state law also does not protect medical marijuana users from prosecution under federal law.

The Health Department's regulations say that Rhode Island residents who want to use medical marijuana must:

-- provide certification from a Rhode Island physician that says marijuana may mitigate their symptoms and the potential benefits of using marijuana outweigh any health risks;

-- pay a $75 fee with a check or money order. People who receive Social Security or Medicaid only pay $10; and

-- get approval from their parent or legal guardian if they are under age 18.

Patients can get applications for identification cards online or at the state Health Department office in Providence. Twenty-four applications were mailed Friday to people who had requested them, Hall-Walker said.

The department has 30 days to verify the doctors' certifications and approve or deny applications. It must issue a photo identification card within five days of approving an application.

The Medical Marijuana Program will end on June 30, 2007 unless the General Assembly renews it. Legislators passed the law over Gov. Don Carcieri's veto.


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