HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html House Moves Medical Marijuana Bill A Step Forward
Pubdate: Thu, 01 Apr 2004
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2004 Rutland Herald
Contact:  http://rutlandherald.nybor.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/892
Author: John Zicconi, Vermont Press Bureau
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project ( www.mpp.org )
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Cannabis - Medicinal)

HOUSE MOVES MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL A STEP FORWARD

MONTPELIER - A long awaited legislative showdown over medical marijuana now 
appears imminent after supporters Wednesday found a way to get a key House 
committee to take up the controversial issue.

The House voted, 79-57, to instruct the Department of Health to study using 
marijuana as an effective pain-management tool. The vote, which is 
considered symbolic, shows there is likely significant support among 
lawmakers to take the next step, which would be allowing physicians to 
prescribe marijuana for people with serious illnesses, such as cancer or AIDS.

The Democratically controlled Senate already has passed a marijuana bill, 
which also allows medical users to grow a small amount of the plant. But 
Republican Gov. James Douglas opposes letting Vermonters use a drug that is 
prohibited by federal law.

Vermont law enforcement officials also oppose legalizing marijuana for 
medicinal purposes, but a recent poll indicated more than 70 percent of 
Vermonters support the drug's use to relieve pain caused by certain medical 
conditions.

The Republican chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, Thomas 
Koch of Barre, has not allowed his committee to discuss the Senate bill, 
which was passed more than a year ago. But Tuesday a small majority of 
committee members protested the delay, and Wednesday one of the House's 
biggest medical marijuana supporters, Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, 
forced the issue to the House floor through an amendment to the 
pain-management bill.

These two events convinced Koch to schedule a committee discussion for 
mid-April. Medical marijuana advocates believe there is enough committee 
support to quickly bring a bill to the House floor, where they predict it 
will pass.

The House two years ago, with significant Republican support, approved a 
medical marijuana bill, "and a lot of those same members are still part of 
this body," said Rep. John Tracy, D-Burlington, who is the House assistant 
minority leader. What happened on the floor Wednesday was "a good 
indication of how people feel about it," he said.

The Senate killed the bill two years ago because then Gov. Howard Dean 
refused to sign it.

House approval again would all but assure a medical marijuana bill would 
reach Douglas' desk. The governor on Wednesday did not threaten a veto, but 
reiterated his displeasure for such a law.

"My position is clear: I don't support it," Douglas said. "Marijuana is 
illegal under federal law, and it is not fair to put physicians in a 
conflict between state and federal laws. ... A better forum for this is the 
Food and Drug Administration, not the state Legislature."

Tracy strongly disagreed.

"If you are waiting on the federal government, I have to ask what are you 
smoking if you think they are going to move on this," Tracy said. 
"Sometimes states have to take the lead."

Nine states, including Maine, allow medicinal use of marijuana.

The Senate proposal allows patients to register with the state and be 
immune from prosecution under state drug laws. The bill is modeled closely 
after the one passed by the House in 2002, and requires a doctor's 
certification that the patient suffers from one of several specific 
conditions and needs marijuana to relive symptoms.

The Vermont Department of Health would determine if a person were eligible. 
Rejected patients could appeal to a three-doctor panel appointed by the 
governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The proposal also allows the registered user or a designated caregiver to 
grow marijuana in a locked indoor facility.

"This was a moment for us," said Nancy Lynch, a spokeswoman for the Vermont 
Marijuana Policy Project. "This allows the conversation to happen, and as 
you can see by (Wednesday's House vote), there is a tremendous amount of 
support for medical marijuana. It is a shame the issue has been bogged down."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart