Pubdate: Wed, 12 Mar 2003
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press
Author: Ross Sneyd, Associated Press


Montpelier, Vt. -- Senators voted Wednesday to make Vermont the ninth
state in the country to legalize using marijuana to treat pain and
other symptoms of debilitating diseases.

A final vote on the initiative, which still could be amended, is
scheduled for Thursday.

"It's come so close to being so totally stopped and then it gets a
life of its own," said a smiling Debbie Ramsdell of Charlotte, who
has been lobbying for the law since her husband Bob died of colon cancer.

The bill, which passed its preliminary vote 22-7, would permit people
with terminal or chronic diseases who met a list of criteria to use
marijuana to treat their pain, nausea, seizures or wasting syndrome.

"It is our belief that this bill is the right message," Senate
Health and Welfare Committee Chairman James Leddy, D-Chittenden,
attempting to refute critics who say legalizing medical use of
marijuana sends the wrong message to children tempted by drugs. "It
is compassionate rather than punitive."

The bill would contradict federal law, which prohibits possession or
use of marijuana for any use. Advocates noted that 99 percent of
marijuana cases were prosecuted in state courts and they said they
doubted the U.S. Justice Department would start going after small
cases of people using marijuana for medical purposes.

"Compassion dictates that we pass this bill and pass it today," said
Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor. "I look to the federal government and
I say, 'Shame on you for not taking a look at this and doing

Ramsdell and other advocates have described how critically ill people
have used marijuana to control their nausea and therefore continue
eating. Others have said it controls their pain when traditional
medicines have not.

But some senators nonetheless were worried about bucking the federal
government. "I was sworn in to uphold that law," said Sen. Julius
Canns, R-Caledonia.

Leddy and other members of the Health and Welfare and Judiciary
committees said they put a number of provisions in the bill to protect
against abuse.

Marijuana would still be illegal for recreational use. "The sale of
marijuana is illegal; the possession of marijuana is illegal," said
Sen. John Bloomer, R-Rutland. "We've created an exemption from

To qualify for such an exemption, someone would have to be suffering
from cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV, AIDS of diseases that
produce "severe, persistent and intractable symptoms," such as
nausea or pain.

They then would have to obtain a special card from the state
indicating that they were using marijuana for medical purposes. They
could possess no more than 2 ounces, three mature plants or four
immature plants.

The marijuana would have to be kept under lock and key and patients
could only grow marijuana indoors in a locked room.

Currently, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon
and Washington have laws allowing the medical use of marijuana.

The Vermont bill, if it wins final approval Thursday, still needs to
pass the House, where it faces an uncertain future.

And Gov. James Douglas repeated again that he didn't like the bill,
although he refused to say he'd veto it if it reached him. "I'm not
prepared to support that," Douglas said.