House committee passes medical marijuana bill

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(Host) The House Health and Welfare Committee has given its approval to a scaled-down version of the medical marijuana bill. The legislation is more restrictive than the proposal the Senate passed last year. The vote in committee was eight to three.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The committee’s vote comes after weeks of internal wrangling among members of the panel concerning the future of this bill.

The proposal doesn’t classify marijuana as a medicine but instead refers to it as a product that might offer symptom relief for a specific group of serious and debilitating illnesses; these include cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS. Individuals would be allowed to use marijuana after getting a referral from their doctor and then registering with the Department of Public Safety.

Committee chairman, Tom Koch of Barre Town, has long opposed this approach. Why did he change his mind to support the plan?

(Koch) “If I had the votes to lock this bill up and throw the key away, I’d do it. Frankly, I’m outvoted. I think if we’re going to have a bill pass we need to have the best possible bill pass.”

(Kinzel) Koch says he’s also been moved by the testimony of a number of Vermonters who have urged the committee to back the measure:

(Koch) “People say, Gee if somebody’s dying of cancer and has some pain and gets some relief and can get it through smoking a little pot, what do I care? And frankly I agree with that. That’s always been my position. I don’t have any problem with that. I worry about passing a bad message to children but I have tried to rewrite the bill in such a way that it minimizes that risk.”

(Kinzel) Because people who register to use marijuana will pay a fee to the state, it’s likely that the measure will be reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee. It’s uncertain at this time, when or if the proposal will reach the House floor for a vote.

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

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