Pubdate: Wed, 19 May 2004
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2004 Rutland Herald
Authors: Darren M. Allen and John Zicconi, Vermont Press Bureau
Bookmark: Vermont
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


MONTPELIER - A measure legalizing the use and possession of marijuana
by people suffering from AIDS, cancer or multiple sclerosis crossed
its final legislative hurdle Wednesday, paving the way for it to
become law without the signature of Gov. James Douglas.

Senators, voting 20-7 in favor of the heavily lobbied bill, made
Vermont's Legislature only the second in the country - Hawaii is the
other - to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

The bill was sent to the governor, who confirmed that he would decline
to sign it, meaning the measure automatically becomes law in five days.

Vermont will become the ninth state with such a law on the books. In
seven of those states voters, not legislators, approved the medical
marijuana legislation.

"I will not oppose this decision of the elected representatives of the
people, nor will I support it by signing it into law," Douglas said in
a statement. "I cannot actively support a measure that allows
Vermonters to be subject to prosecution under federal law, increases
the availability of a controlled substance and sends a dangerous
message to our children."

According to administration officials, the White House lobbied Douglas
to veto the bill.

Indeed, President Bush's deputy drug czar came to Vermont last month
in a daylong lobbying blitz, and, in the last several days, a Bush
administration official placed a _phone call to Douglas urging his
rejection of the bill.

The new law is actually a much narrower package than that passed
earlier this year by the Senate. And while the governor was poised to
veto that measure, he was said to be cognizant of the political
popularity of making marijuana available to terminally ill people.

"I believe that we owe Vermonters with debilitating medical conditions
the very best that medical science has to offer," Douglas said.

"Proven science has not demonstrated that marijuana is part of that,"
he said. "Despite that fact, marijuana offers those with the most
painful chronic diseases a measure of hope in a time of suffering."

The measure's supporters included the leader of Vermont's Catholics,
who yesterday praised the governor for allowing it to become law.

"I believe this bill is a very encouraging indication that our
legislature and our governor are seriously concerned about improving
end-of-life care in Vermont," said Bishop Kenneth Angell of the
Burlington Diocese. "I know this was a hard decision for Gov. Douglas."

Under the new law, people will be allowed to grow up to three
marijuana plants in a locked room and possess 2 ounces of "usable pot."

Users will be under the supervision of the Department of Public

The medical marijuana law was the highest profile action on a day that
many thought might be the biennium's last. Despite a late afternoon
handshake agreement on the $955 million operating budget, legislative
leaders agreed to return to the State House today, a day on which
almost everyone agrees will be the session's last.

Even though they didn't finish their work Wednesday, lawmakers wrapped
up almost all of their outstanding issues, even coming close to
agreement on the capital construction bill, a bill that always seems
to be the scene for last-minute haggling.

As capital budget conferees battled over dams, State Police barracks
and expanding the definition of horse farms behind closed doors with
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, D-Windsor, and House Speaker
Walter Freed, R-Dorset, lawmakers in other parts of the building were
busy passing bills and patching up differences.

* Lawmakers passed an administration-backed tax package that lowers
corporate tax rates on Vermont-based businesses by closing a loophole
used by multi-state companies to avoid paying taxes here. They
approved a 4.5 percent raise for state employees in a package that
also boosts legislative pay by nearly 10 percent, its first bump in
nearly a decade.

And they wrapped up the final touches on a workers' compensation bill
that even its ardent supporters admitted would not have a significant
impact on the annual double-digit premium increases faced by the
state's businesses.

* In what had become a contentious issue in the wake of the two-year
delay in construction on Chittenden County's Circumferential Highway,
the state's transportation spending plan appeared nearly on its way to
the governor.

House and Senate negotiators settled their differences and approved
the $359 million transportation budget, which was also ratified by the
full Senate. The House is expected to approve the measure today.

The bill includes $80 million for bridge and road repair, $20 million
of which was added at the last minute after a federal judge stopped
construction of the controversial highway. The largest part of the
bill - some $147 million - is for basic maintenance of the state's
transportation infrastructure including snow plowing and upkeep of the
state's nine airports.

* Another issue that has stymied lawmakers for months is how to expand
Vermont's sex offender registry. On Wednesday, however, it appeared
that the names and photographs of the state's most serious sex
offenders will be placed on the Internet by Oct. 1. After some serious
haggling that included a disagreement between House and Senate
Democrats, negotiators settled their differences.

Crimes that will trigger automatic listing include aggravated sexual
assault, and kidnapping and sexual assault of a child. All two-time
offenders that commit sexual assault or lewd and lascivious conduct
with a child will also be posted online.

Aside from the Internet, the bill broadens what police can tell people
about sexual predators living in their neighborhood. Current law
prohibits police from publicly disclosing their whereabouts unless
they are convinced someone's safety is threatened.

The new law not only allows police to disclose this information when
asked, but it directs police to take the initiative and inform the
public when a potentially dangerous sex offender moves into their

Reporter Claude R. Marx contributed to this story. 
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