Medical marijuana law expansion plan under review

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary Committee is looking at a plan to expand the state’s medical marijuana law.

Patients who are in the program say the law doesn’t allow them to grow enough marijuana to meet their needs, and as a result, they’re forced to purchase it on the black market.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Several years ago, Vermont joined several other states in allowing patients with chronic debilitating illnesses to use marijuana for pain management if a doctor authorized the treatment.

In order to participate in the program, patients also had to register with the state Department of Public Safety.

Mark Tucci was one of the first people to register. Tucci has multiple sclerosis and traditional prescription drugs didn’t offer him much relief from his constant pain.

Tucci gets his marijuana from a grower who is also registered with the state police. Tucci told members of the Senate Judiciary committee that the law doesn’t allow individuals to grow enough marijuana to treat their pain. That means he’s forced to buy some marijuana illegally.

(Tucci) “I smoke roughly two ounces a month. At present I can grow about two ounces in a three to four month period. That means that two thirds of my meds have to be bought on the black market. The expense is 4 to $500 an ounce. That’s about the only quality that does anything. My disability check is $850 a month and the unknown strain and the unknown growing conditions pretty much guarantee that the quality won’t be the same, which is like being used to using a valium and getting a Tylenol instead.”

(Kinzel) Tucci says the restrictions in the current law place him in a very difficult position.

(Tucci) “Which would you rather have me do break the law in my house or break the law out on the street?”

(Kinzel) The chairman of the Judiciary committee, Bennington senator Dick Sears, is the lead sponsor of a bill to allow patients registered with the state to grow more marijuana.

(Sears) “It’s a compassionate bill and I don’t see marijuana in a medical sense as much different that using any other prescription drug. Unfortunately you just can’t get it in a prescription form.”

(Kinzel) Some law enforcement officials expressed concern that expanding the law could result in more illegal drug use. Sears doesn’t find this to be a compelling argument.

(Sears) “I more or less on this bill am going to be guided by the folks who are currently taking advantage of the registry and what they need for their purposes than other concerns. We don’t say to somebody who’s using Oxycontin for example, just because other people abuse that, you can’t have it or you can’t have this amount.'”

(Kinzel) The committee plans to take further testimony from members of the state’s law enforcement community in the near future.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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