Douglas concerned about medical marijuana bill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he has serious concerns about a new medical marijuana bill that’s being considered at the Statehouse.

Douglas says he’s worried that one version of the legislation allows Vermonters to possess too much marijuana.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When the Legislature passed Vermont’s original medical marijuana law last session, the governor allowed it to become law without his signature. It was his way of indicating some concerns about the law without vetoing it.

The new bill expands the number of medical conditions that qualify for the use of marijuana and it increases the amount of marijuana an individual can possess.

The original law specified that a person must be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, cancer or multiple sclerosis to be able to use marijuana to help relieve chronic pain.

The new legislation doesn’t list specific illnesses. Instead, it addresses serious chronic medical conditions.

The patient’s doctor would still need to sign off on the use of marijuana and the individual would also have to register with the Department of Public Safety.

Douglas says he has some concerns with an expansion of the current program.

(Douglas) “It really depends on what form it ultimately takes when it gets to my desk. I don’t agree that we ought to be passing bills that conflict with federal laws. It puts our law enforcement officials in a tough situation and our health care providers as well. But I understand the compassion that legislators feel for those with serious painful illnesses and that’s why on a very limited basis I allowed it to become law last year.”

(Kinzel) Both the House and Senate have passed an expansion of the medical marijuana law this year.

The major difference between the two bills is that the Senate plan allows individuals to grow more plants and to possess a larger amount of marijuana.

A House Senate conference committee will now work to resolve their differences and Douglas says the outcome of these talks will influence his position on the bill.

(Douglas) “If it’s modest expansion of what we have now I might do the same. But if it’s a significant expansion, I’ll probably have more trouble with it. So I think that will be a key factor in my decision.”

(Kinzel) Legislative leaders are hoping to adjourn this weekend. This means this issue and many others will have to be resolved during the course of this week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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