Senate passes medicinal marijuana bill

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(Host) By a vote of 22 to 7, the Vermont Senate on Wednesday gave its support to legislation that will allow patients with severe and chronic illnesses use marijuana for pain relief.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Under the plan, patients with chronic illnesses would be able to possess small amounts of marijuana for pain relief if their doctor has determined that marijuana offers the best option for pain treatment.

Patients who want to use medicinal marijuana must apply to the state Health Department. If their application is approved, they’ll be listed on a state registry and issued a special photo ID card so that law enforcement officers will know who can legally possess marijuana. Individuals who are approved for the registry will be allowed to grow small amounts of marijuana as long as the plants are grown indoors.

Health and Welfare Chair Jim Leddy told members of the Senate that the bill is needed because a special summer study commission concluded that marijuana can be effective for some patients:

(Leddy) “Every member of the committee from families to patients to law enforcement to a judge to a state’s attorney to doctors, agreed on this fundamental finding: that in certain situations, that medically marijuana can be a benefit to a patient with certain types of illnesses.”

(Kinzel) Leddy acknowledges that the bill is in conflict with federal law that prohibits the possession of marijuana for any reason. But he argues that the state has a right to disagree with Congress over this issue:

(Leddy) “And in so doing, we’re going to be frankly saying to our federal government, we believe in these instances that we should not be criminalizing the treatment of very ill people that is a core of our discussion and of our presentation today.”

(Kinzel) Caledonia Senator Julius Canns opposed the bill because he thinks it sends the wrong message to young people about using drugs. He says there are too many unanswered questions with the legislation:

(Canns) “In 1997 I stood right at this very desk when Act 60 was being presented I said this was a bill that was the same as a freight train going through a dark tunnel with no lights and no brakes. I think you see it’s coming true. I predict the same for this bill.”

(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the Senate on Thursday and several additional amendments to the bill will be considered at that time.

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

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