Pubdate: Tue, 9 Mar 2010
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2010 Times Argus
Author: Peter Hirschfeld, Vermont Press Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


MONTPELIER - A legislative effort to provide eligible patients with 
safe and legal access to medical marijuana could inch forward this 
week when a Senate committee decides whether to create 
state-sanctioned dispensaries for the drug.

The Senate Committee on Government Operations is scheduled to vote 
Thursday on a bill that would establish up to five so-called 
"compassion centers" at which patients could obtain medical marijuana.

Sen. Jeanette White, a Windham County Democrat, chairs the government 
operations committee and is the lead sponsor of the bill. She said 
Monday that she hopes the legislation will see a vote on the full 
Senate floor before the crossover deadline Friday to send bills to the House.

Nearly 200 Vermont residents are enrolled on the state's 
medical-marijuana registry. But though the state legalized medical 
marijuana in 2004, White said, patients struggle to obtain a drug 
credited with relieving the symptoms of certain chronic illnesses.

"We've approved medical marijuana usage in Vermont but the people 
that are certified and registered with the state to legitimately use 
it can't get it anywhere except by criminal activity," White said.

Without a legal outlet for the drug, White said, would-be users are 
forced to find the drug through "unsavory" channels.

"It's hard for an 80-year-old woman to go around and try to find 
someplace she can get it," White said.

And while the 2004 medical marijuana law allows eligible patients to 
grow their own, White said that too can be difficult for people 
already beset by serious medical conditions.

"Oftentimes people don't have the strength or the ability to grow," 
She said. "We don't all have green thumbs."

As the Thursday vote approaches, the bill remains a work in progress. 
White said her legislation will include numerous safeguards and 
restrictions to ensure that sanctioned dispensaries are subject to 
strict regulatory oversight.

As for supplying the drug, she said, the bill would allow sanctioned 
growers to cultivate an amount sufficient for the dispensaries' clientele.

The bill has drawn opposition from the Department of Public Safety, 
where officials say they worry that dispensaries would fuel increased 
illegal drug use. They also oppose the bill on the grounds that it 
would violate federal laws. Though the Obama administration has 
tamped down on federal raids of medical-marijuana dispensaries, the 
drug is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 narcotic.

White said she's uncertain whether the bill has enough support to 
make it over to the House.

"I don't know if it will pass the Senate floor," White said. "I don't 
know if it will even pass out of my committee."

Even if the bill does make it through the government operations 
committee, it may not see a full Senate vote before the crossover 
deadline. Senate Majority Leader John Campbell, who sits on the 
Senate Judiciary Committee, said he believes the legislation needs 
serious vetting by the judiciary committee before it's ready for a 
vote by the full chamber.

"There are so many legal ramifications that I don't believe the 
government operations committee has an opportunity to really delve 
into because it's not usually an area of their jurisdiction," 
Campbell said Monday. "You have to take so many things into 
consideration, and I don't want any unforeseen consequences to the 
people dispensing it, nor do we want to place any extra burden on law 
enforcement by sending out a bill that will just make their jobs 10 
times harder." 
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