Committee supports medicinal marijuana bill

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(Host) The Senate Health and Welfare committee gave its unanimous approval Thursday afternoon to a medical marijuana bill. The proposal would allow people with chronic and debilitating illnesses to use marijuana for pain relief if their doctor concludes that it is the best option for the patient.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The chair of the Senate Health and Welfare committee, Chittenden Senator Jim Leddy, describes the bill as a common sense approach to a complicated issue.

The legislation would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes under certain circumstances. A doctor must certify that a patient has a chronic or debilitating illness and that other forms of pain relief have not been effective for the patient. The patient would then be enrolled in a registry with the Vermont Health Department so that law enforcement officials can have a list of all people who are authorized to use marijuana for pain relief.

Leddy says the report of a summer study committee clearly demonstrates that marijuana can be an effective drug for some patients:

(Leddy) “I think we’re trying to find a balance and the balance is to try to be compassionate, to base it on medical evidence in terms of a doctor saying that the fact this person could benefit and trying to limit its use but to do it in a legal way.”

(Kinzel) Some lawmakers oppose the bill because they feel it will send the wrong message to young people. Leddy strongly disagrees:

(Leddy) “To the contrary, I think it is sending a message that for people who have very serious illnesses that cannot and are not benefiting from any other form of medication, there are some who would benefit from this as a medication. And clearly there are many prescribed drugs now that are subject to abuse. So what we’re saying is, we’re trying to in a very structured way create a registry that would protect the patient.”

(Kinzel) Unlike former Governor Howard Dean, Governor Jim Douglas is not threatening to veto the bill. But Douglas clearly has some problems with it:

(Douglas) “Historically, law enforcement agencies have been concerned about that as a gateway drug to other more serious uses. Controlling it for medicinal purposes is maybe a challenge to law enforcement agencies because it’s an otherwise unlawful substance. So I want to ask these questions of folks in the administration before reaching a conclusion.”

(Kinzel) The measure will now be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary committee.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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