House Approves Medical Marijuana

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(Host) After nearly five hours of debate, the House Thursday night voted 81 to 53 in support of legislation that allows doctors to prescribe marijuana to ease the pain of patients with terminal or chronic illnesses.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Back in the early 1980s, the Legislature gave its approval to a bill that allows patients with serious illnesses to use marijuana as a painkilling drug. The legislation was signed into law but it’s never been implemented because the Vermont Health Department has refused to issue the regulations needed to put the proposal into place.

Since that time, eight other states have enacted so-called ‘medicinal marijuana’ laws, prompting a new effort in Vermont.

The bill would allow a doctor to authorize the use of marijuana when the physician has determined that a patient suffers a debilitating medical condition. While some states allow the distribution of marijuana through non-profit health centers, this bill does not create a distribution system and instead requires patients or caregivers to grow marijuana indoors.

Hartford Representative Michael Kainen urged the House to support the plan:

(Kainen) “This bill proposes a strict and compassionate framework to allow the use of marijuana by people who are suffering from a serious illness. The bill does not legalize marijuana. It provides those who are certified by a doctor as having a debilitating illness not to be prosecuted under state law.”

(Kinzel) Montpelier Representative Warren Kitzmiller, whose wife Karen died last summer from cancer, told House members that Karen used marijuana in the last two months of her life ¿ marijuana that had been provided to her by a physician:

(Kitzmiller) “These are people who are in terrible pain many of them are dying. There is nothing funny about it. This is an issue of compassion for their suffering, Mr. Speaker. I dare say there isn’t a single member in this body who would willingly trade places with any of the people who benefit from this bill.”

(Kinzel) But Newport Representative Duncan Kilmartin argued that members should consider the facts of the bill, not the emotion surround it. Kilmartin said the bill contained too many loopholes and would allow marijuana to be prescribed in too many situations:

(Kilmartin) “The cost of this bill in monetary and social costs and the destruction of the social fabric that is so necessary to maintain in these perilous times, is obscene and outrageous this bill should be defeated.”

(Kinzel) Governor Howard Dean also opposes the legislation. Dean says he would support the use of marijuana for medical purposes only after the Federal Food and Drug Administration has conducted thorough research on its use.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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