Stuart B. Smith
Stuart B. Smith is co-director of Cannabis Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation. He lives in North Scituate.
Well over a decade ago, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed groundbreaking legislation allowing for the legal cultivation, marketing, and consumption of marijuana. A number of specific medical conditions were designated as the basis for eligibility to utilize this program. This new law was authored by the late Rep. Thomas Slater. He would spend the last few years of his political life promoting this legislation and shepherding it through the political system, often in the face of considerable opposition.
He was clearly at the end of his political career, so there appears to have been little to gain personally or politically for this new law to pass. His motives were altruistic. Passing the law was an example of Rhode Island politics at its best. This courageous politician would listen to his constituents’ needs and then act accordingly. He would create a new piece of legislation designed to improve the quality of life of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens, including those suffering from chronic and debilitating conditions.
The intent of the original medical marijuana law was to allow all Rhode Island citizens access to this new cutting-edge medication if they could meet the eligibility requirements. For many patients, like my wife, suffering from chronic and often incurable conditions, the introduction of medical cannabis would prove life-altering. Perhaps the most beneficial characteristic of utilizing cannabis as a medical treatment is the elimination of negative side effects.
With the use of medical marijuana, my wife has been able to reduce her pain to a manageable level and perhaps just as important, no longer experiences extreme sleep deprivation. As a result, our lives would no longer be dominated by anxiety as a sense of hope in our lives was renewed. For those suffering from chronic and often painful medical conditions, the lack of hope relative to one’s future can create a level of emotional trauma just as debilitating as the medical condition a patient may suffer from.
Over the past 14 years, my wife and I have been very active in all aspects of the medical marijuana program. We have spent years in political advocacy for this program. As a result of our years of engagement, in both the shaping and executing of the current law, I believe the one element of the law which the vast majority of the patients point to as a failure is the inability of this legislation to produce medicine at a reasonable cost. Low-income patients often cannot afford cannabis at the prices established at the three distribution centers. So essentially, cannabis is not accessible to many due to the cost, making it a luxury to many when it is in fact a necessity.
There are a number of ways to reduce the cost of cannabis, all requiring a change in the current law. Rep. Thomas Slater’s vision of improving the lives of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens will not be realized until the cost of this product is brought down to a reasonable level. This issue must be addressed by the legislature. Representative Slater’s vision was driven by his altruism. His desire was not to create a new industry driven by the financial motivation of private profit nor was he focused on expanding the state’s tax base from the sale of cannabis. He simply hoped to try to improve the lives of his fellow citizens.