Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate in Vermont

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by RMJL, Mar 16, 2003.

  1. Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate
    Times-Argus; March 14, 2003
    by David Mace, Vermont Press Bureau

    MONTPELIER -- A bill that would allow people with serious illnesses to legally possess and use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms passed the Senate Thursday with broad bipartisan support and now moves to the House for consideration.

    The 22-7 vote came after senators amended the bill to require minors under age 18 to have a parent or guardian sign the application to participate in the medical marijuana program.

    Supporters of the bill stressed that they were not changing marijuanas status as an illegal drug.

    "I must be clear. We are not legalizing marijuana," said Sen. John Bloomer, R-Rutland, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that helped craft the legislation. "We're creating an exception for an individual to receive treatment."

    The bill, modeled closely after the one that passed the House last year with tri-partisan support, requires a doctor's certification that the patient suffers from one of several specified conditions, or from diseases like AIDS and cancer.

    Patients would apply to the Vermont Department of Health and those who were rejected could appeal to a panel of three doctors appointed by the Medical Practice Board. In addition, a person could register to be a patient's caregiver, and the Health Department would keep the records confidential unless police needed to verify the information.

    Medical marijuana users would only be allowed to use the drug at home, and they or their caregiver could also grow medical marijuana in a locked indoor facility and transport it in a locked container.

    Since a search warrant would be needed to look in the container or search a home, that would provide time to check the database and determine whether the owner was exempt from prosecution.

    An amendment by Sen. Mark Shepard, R-Bennington, that would have required minors to get parental permission before being allowed access to medical marijuana was viewed by some as a vehicle for advancing the cause of parental notification for a minor's abortion. It was withdrawn after Shepard said Bloomer's substitute language was sufficient to address his concerns about parental involvement in children's health care.

    But that still didn't sway Shepard to vote for the bill. He and some other senators continued to object to the measure for a variety of reasons, including the fact that changing the law on marijuana would put Vermont in conflict with federal statutes outlawing it and that it would advance the cause of those seeking to decriminalize marijuana.

    Others wondered whether the bill was needed, pointing out that there have never been cases where police and prosecutors went after sick Vermonters using marijuana.

    "It seems to me we have a problem in the closet, and we seem determined to bring it out of the closet," said Sen. Hull Maynard, R-Rutland.

    Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Sen. James Leddy, D-Chittenden, said that the message his committee heard from those suffering from diseases was clear: "We are not criminals."

    He also rejected arguments that the bill would encourage drug use, and noted that for some patients legal prescription drugs simply didn't help them.

    "Can we look at those sick people and say, 'We feel your pain -- just say no?' That is not the answer of caring society, of a just society," Leddy told his fellow senators.

    House leaders have said there is uncertainty whether the bill can clear that body, though a similar measure passed in the last session when Republicans held a wider margin there.

    And like his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Howard Dean, current Gov. James Douglas has indicated that he is opposed to the measure, although hes stopped short of saying he would veto the bill.

    Confirming the fears of some opponents, a group that advocates for legalizing marijuana under all circumstances -- the Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project -- hailed the passage of the bill and said it expected House passage as well.

    "Then, the question will be whether or not Governor Jim Douglas follows the will of Vermonts citizens and their elected representatives," Billy Rogers, director of state policies for the group, said in a statement.

    Local advocates -- who have stressed that their goal is only to help the sick, not support legalization -- expressed satisfaction.

    "We're excited," said Gail Zatz, a lobbyist for the HIV Public Policy Project, which supported the bill. "We're happy that seriously ill Vermonters will be able to get the medication they need within the privacy of their own home, under the supervision of their doctor."

    She called the bill the strictest in the country and expressed hope for its chances in the House. Seven other states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- have similar laws.

    "I think the committees did a terrific job putting together a bill that's compassionate of patients and respectful toward legitimate law enforcement issues," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, D-Windsor. "There's a very simple proposition here, and that is if it's a medical issue and it helps with medical concerns, this is no different than any other medication that's used properly and under appropriate medical supervision."

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