Tackling State-Federal Conflicts Over Medical Marijuana

Mar 11, 2015

In the past few weeks, two medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island have faced legal problems arising from their use of the substance. The cases hinge on a conflict between federal and state laws. Now, new federal legislation seeks to address the problem.

Marijuana plant
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), has introduced a bill that would reclassify marijuana as a substance with a recognized medical use. If passed, the bill could help ease conflicts between medical marijuana patients and employers or landlords.

But Rhode Island medical marijuana patient advocate Joanne Leppanen says removing the stigma of medical marijuana use helps, too.

“As people get educated about it, as they become more aware of it and how it works and how it helps people," Leppanen said, "they tend to be more understanding and more open to it and more supportive, generally.”

In February, a public employee sued the city of Foster after he was fired for using medical marijuana. This month, a URI student who uses the drug for nausea and pain was threatened with eviction from housing built with federal funds.  But Leppanen says these conflicts should never have come up in the first place.

“So we take the position that, in the state of Rhode Island, because the law is clear in Rhode Island," Leppanen said, "that patients shouldn’t be discriminated against.”