Advertising targets lawmakers’ votes on marijuana bill

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(Host) With a house committee set to vote Wednesday on a medical marijuana bill, proponents have been waging a public campaign they hope will sway legislators.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) It’s not often that a bill under consideration at the Statehouse becomes the subject of a campaign of television advertising, but that’s what has happened with legislation that would legalize the medical use of marijuana by people suffering from a number of serious diseases.

(Sound from advertisement) “Marijuana has eased my nausea, controlled my vomiting, increased my appetite. It seems to me it’s only the politicians who are having an issue with passing this bill…”

(Zind) Bruce Mirken is with the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. The group has produced a series of three television ads featuring testimonials from Vermonters who support the use of medical marijuana.

(Mirkin) “We bought a significant amount of advertising time on both broadcast and cable. We want it to be widely seen and hope that it will have an influence on the process.”

(Zind) Mirken says of five states where legislatures are considering medical marijuana bills, Vermont is the only state where the group is advertising. Mirken won’t say how much money the group is spending on advertising.

(Tom Koch) “There’s been a lot of money spent on this.”

(Zind) Barre Town Representative Tom Koch chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee. Koch says the ads have generated calls to legislators. But he questions why an out of state group is interested in getting the bill passed.

(Koch) “You have to ask why non-Vermonters are taking such an interest in this subject. You have to ask whether medical marijuana is really their end game or whether they’re looking for something more.”

(Zind) The bill’s supporters say opponents have also brought in people from out of state, including the deputy director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. Bruce Mirken acknowledges that the Marijuana Policy Project wants to decriminalize marijuana.

(Mirken) “But that’s a separate discussion. We understand that that’s a bigger issue that the public has to debate. But while we have the war on drugs, let’s at least remove the sick and wounded from the battlefield.”

(Zind) A medical marijuana bill has already passed the Vermont Senate but it faces an uncertain future in the House.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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