HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Medical Marijuana Law Expanded
Pubdate: Fri, 01 Jun 2007
Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)
Copyright: 2007 Burlington Free Press
Author: Nancy Remsen, Free Press Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


MONTPELIER -- Steve Perry of Randolph Center welcomed news Thursday 
that a bill expanding eligibility for the state's medical marijuana 
registry would become law -- even though the governor refused to sign it.

Perry copes with a degenerative joint condition that causes severe 
pain and muscle spasms. Traditional painkillers fail to provide 
relief, he said, but marijuana has helped. Now he will be able to 
register with the Department of Public Safety and have protection 
from state prosecution while using the otherwise illegal drug.

The bill broadened the eligibility established in Vermont's 2004 law 
by allowing those with chronic debilitating conditions, not just 
life-threatening diseases, to participate in the program. It also 
increases the number of plants that participants may grow at home and 
reduces the annual registration fee from $100 to $50.

The marijuana bill is the fifth piece of legislation Gov. Jim Douglas 
has allowed to become law this year without his signature. Jason 
Gibbs, the governor's spokesman, said that generally Douglas 
exercises this option when he doesn't agree with the policy but 
recognizes a measure has strong support in the Legislature.

In the case of the marijuana bill, Gibbs said, "The governor has 
compassion for people who are suffering from debilitating diseases, 
but he can't in good conscience sanction a violation of federal law."

"Why wouldn't he veto it if that is the way he really feels?" asked 
Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. "This is a 
wimp-out position." Shumlin criticized the governor for using the 
no-sign option so frequently.

Senate Majority Leader John Campbell, D-Windsor, agreed.

"I think what it says is that there was a lack of communication on 
many of the issues we were dealing with," Campbell said. "I would 
hope in the next session, if he or his staff have problems, we would 
have more in-depth conversations."

The four other bills Douglas let become law without his signature are:

H.274: This exempts providers of foster care to adults from counting 
their payment from this work as household income when calculating how 
much they owe in school property taxes -- if they pay based on their 
income. "While I gave serious consideration to vetoing this bill, I 
do want to support adult foster care providers and the important 
services they provide," Douglas wrote in a letter explaining his 
decision. "They should not be forced to bear the consequence of poor 
public policy developed by the Legislature.

H.78: This allows local voters to increase the number of signatures 
required on petitions requesting reconsideration or rescission of 
local votes. Douglas said the law could make it more difficult for 
towns to revisit decisions, but he let it become law because "it at 
least leaves to the voters the ultimate decision whether to change 
this time-honored tradition of local governance."

S.124: This allows the Legislature to hire consultants to review the 
planning the Douglas administration has undertaken to replace the 
state psychiatric hospital and to offer lawmakers options for new 
facilities. Douglas called this bill an infringement on the powers 
and duties of the executive branch of government and "a 
counterproductive exercise in micromanagement," but let it become law 
rather than further politicize the process.

S.39: This requires health insurance plans to cover prostate cancer 
screenings and services provided by naturopathic physicians. Douglas 
complained that the new mandates would increase health care costs. 
Still restrictive

Vermont is one of 12 states that protect very sick people from 
prosecution for using marijuana.

Even with the new changes, "it is still going to be very conservative 
compared to some of the other states," said Dan Bernath, assistant 
communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Campbell championed the expansion of eligibility and relaxation of 
the limits on the number of plants. A former police officer, he said 
he understood the governor's concern about passing legislation 
contrary to federal law. "We chose to look at the human side, to take 
a compassionate view."

Mark Tucci of Manchester is one of 35 Vermonters on the state's 
medical marijuana registry. Afflicted with multiple sclerosis, he 
said smoking marijuana provides relief from the pain and muscle 
spasms that awaken him many mornings. He uses about 2 ounces a month.

He had lobbied lawmakers to allow him to grow more marijuana at home. 
They agreed to a modest increase, but Tucci said Thursday that he 
still wouldn't be able to grow what he needs.

"It still forces me out on the black market," he said, "but it 
certainly helps." 
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