House gives preliminary approval of medical marijuana bill

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(Host) Late Thursday, the Vermont House gave its preliminary approval to a scaled down version of the Senate’s medical marijuana bill. The vote on the bill was 79 to 48. Most of the debate came over an amendment to expand the number of people who would qualify for the plan. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 87 to 49.

Under the bill, patients with cancer, Multiple Sclerosis or HIV/AIDS would be allowed to use marijuana for symptom relief, if the treatment was recommended by their doctor. People who are eligible to use marijuana would register with the Department of Public Safety.

House Health and Welfare chairman Tom Koch is the author of the House plan. Koch argued that this limited approach is a reasonable response to public testimony in favor of the bill:

(Koch) “This bill does not legalize marijuana. Marijuana remains illegal as it has been in our law for a number of years. What this bill does do is say for a limited number of people who have a debilitating medical condition – as is defined – and apply and are approved by the Department of Public Safety, we will not arrest and prosecute them – even though what they are doing is technically illegal.”

(Host) Burlington Representative David Zuckerman tried unsuccessfully to expand the bill beyond the four illnesses included in the Health and Welfare proposal:

(Zuckerman) “Why not – if we’re going to pass a law that’s going to allow a few rare people in Vermont to use one more option – why not let the physician and the patient figure out who those people are? Why should we be the ones to make that medical decision?”

(Host) The measure is expected to come up for final approval in the House Friday.

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