Pubdate: Sun, 16 Mar 2003
Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
Copyright: 2003 Brattleboro Publishing Co.
Author: Toby Henry, Reformer Staff
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


BRATTLEBORO -- Windham County legislators reported progress on a grab bag of
state bills this week, ranging from work on the transportation capital bill
to ironing out legislation that would help establish a differentiation
between sentencing for addicts and large-scale drug sellers.

Regarding the transportation bill, Rep. Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham,
said that local train service figures largely. For example, a stipulation on
the bill would allow for an alternative to Amtrak's Brattleboro-to-St.
Albans service, under certain circumstances.

"The bill provides for funding of the Amtrak service or even a successor
service, in case we find that we can't afford Amtrak," he said.

Also on the subject of trains, Obuchowski said that the bill contains a
provision for the restoration of the Champlain Flyer. The Champlain Flyer
closed Feb. 28, he said, but if congestion results from construction at the
Shelburne Road area, the service may be restarted. 

In another item of local interest, Obuchowski said that the bill contains a
brief statement authorizing the state to sell a small triangular piece of
land on The Island in Bellows Falls to the town of Rockingham. The land,
located south of Depot Street, will become part of the area for the Waypoint
Interpretive Center, he said, and will be sold to the town for the token sum
of one dollar.

Among the other goals of the bill, he continued, is to have the Vermont
Transportation Agency evaluate most of its present holdings, such as land
and buildings, and apply a "test of necessity" to them. Those that are not
found to be indispensable would be treated as surplus property, and would be
first offered for sale to their corresponding municipality. If their town or
village chooses not to purchase, he said, the facility would then be offered
for sale to the general public.

In addition to analyzing agency holdings, Obuchowski said that the bill
would commission an allocation study of the funds distributed from the
agency, which has a proposed budget of $360 million for the coming year. The
purpose of the study, he continued, would be to determine if it is more
appropriate for funding in some instance to actually come from the state's
general fund.

On the Senate side, Sen. Jeanette White, D-Putney, said that the advancement
of the medical marijuana bill from the Senate to the House by a vote of 22-7
was among the most significant developments of the week. The bill, which
prohibits the arrest or prosecution of people using marijuana to treat
certain medical conditions, such as cancer and AIDS, will probably go before
the Health and Welfare Committee some time next week.

White added that among the other developments of the week was the
confirmation of Wayne Laroche, a fishery and wildlife biologist, as head of
the state's Fish & Wildlife Commission. Earlier this year, some controversy
was generated over Laroche's connections to some politically vocal sporting
groups, although the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee
recommended Laroche for the position. Ultimately, Laroche took the
commissioner spot with a vote of 21-8.

"I did vote against him," said White. "I felt that there were some questions
that he just didn't answer in his hearings and they revolved around his
administrative and management skills. In my mind, he didn't show leadership
in trying to quell the controversy around him. I think he might have been
more proactive."

In the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Richard Marek, D-Newfane, said that
bill H.206, which passed from the committee to the House floor on Friday, is
a single bill that stands to make a progressive impact in terms of
drug-related crime sentencing. The bill would help differentiate between
punishments for drug addicts found to be in possession of controlled
substances and dealers who are found to be in possession of large amounts of
drugs. The bill would set a standard punishment of no more than 30 years in
jail and a fine of $1 million for people found to be in possession of drugs
with intent to sell. Minimum possession amounts vary according to substance,
Marek said, adding that 60 grams for cocaine or methamphetamines and seven
grams for heroin would be considered amounts prosecutable for intent to

Under the bill, people with less than this amount who are able to
successfully defend the argument that the drugs were for their own personal
use would be given a lesser punishment as well as drug treatment, he
continued. Based on the three weeks of lengthy testimony from members of
state law enforcement, Marek said, it was repeatedly stressed that in order
to curb the state's drug addiction levels, law enforcement must work in
tandem with treatment.

"Treatment is an indispensable part of the picture," he said. "You cannot
solve the drug problem in Vermont with enforcement alone."

Meanwhile, Rep. Sarah Edwards, P-Brattleboro, reported some progress in
efforts by the House Committee on Health and Welfare to reorganize the
Agency of Human Services. Edwards said the committee is aiming to "reduce
the number of doors a consumer needs to enter to obtain the services they
need, streamline intake procedures and improve communication between

Edwards said her committee needs more testimony before legislation is
viable. "We haven't taken enough testimony from advocates, line workers and
consumers themselves. We need input from all the stakeholders, not just the
people at the top," Edwards said.
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