Douglas voices concern over medicinal marijuana

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(Host) Backers of a medicinal marijuana bill are optimistic that the full Legislature will give its approval to their proposal this year. However, Governor Jim Douglas has some strong concerns about the measure.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The medical marijuana bill was a big issue in the closing weeks of the 2002 session. The House and Senate took different approaches to the plan and a special 12-member task force – including doctors, judges and law enforcement officials – was created to further study the issue.

The task force report concluded that, in some cases, marijuana could offer effective pain relief for people with chronic or debilitating illnesses. The report calls for the state to regulate the use of medicinal marijuana by establishing a law enforcement data base for everyone who has their doctor’s approval to use the drug.

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Sears, who had some strong reservations about the bill last year, says the report has had a significant impact on his thinking about this issue:

(Sears) “Well I think it’s clear that there is some aid from medical marijuana, making it clear it’s medical marijuana to people who are suffering diseases that can get amelioration of those impacts of that disease – the vomiting and nausea and so forth. And [I] just think it’s time to look at other ways of treatment and not make them criminals if they need to use this.”

(Kinzel) Sears says he’s concerned that passage of the bill could lead members of the public to believe that the state is legalizing marijuana but he thinks this is an issue that can be dealt with:

(Sears) “I think we have to be absolutely clear that we’re talking about medical marijuana for debilitating diseases, and it ameliorates the symptoms of that disease. And [we] have to make darn sure that that’s the message we send.”

(Kinzel) Former Governor Howard Dean was a strong opponent of this legislation. Governor Jim Douglas also has some serious concerns about the bill:

(Douglas) “I’m not prepared to embrace the use of marijuana on a legal basis at this point. We have, as you know, a situation with the federal government through its Food and Drug Administration has deemed it an illegal substance. And so we would be in a very difficult situation if we were to make a different determination here.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Health and Welfare Committee will begin its review of this issue on Thursday afternoon.

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

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