Medicinal Marijauna Bill to be Decided This Week

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(Host) The future of the medicinal marijuana bill could be decided next week. A compromise plan is expected to be on the Senate floor that would allow individuals to use marijuana as a pain killer under certain circumstances.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There is no doubt that his issue has become a political football at the Statehouse. Last month the House gave its approval to a bill that allows patients with serious illnesses to use marijuana if they have written permission from their doctors. The legislation also permits patients to grow up to three ounces of their own marijuana.

The Senate Health and Welfare supported this approach but the Judiciary Committee did not. Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears rewrote the bill so that patients arrested for the possession of marijuana could use what is known as an affirmative defense in their case. Acceptance of this defense would result in the charges being dropped.

Another key factor in this debate is the position of Governor Howard Dean. Dean opposes the use of medicinal marijuana until the Federal Food and Drug Administration has run clinical tests to determine its effectiveness and he has vowed to veto the House bill. The governor says he’s not sure how he feels about the Senate plan.

Senator Sears says the behind-the-scenes debate over this issue has been intense:

(Sears) “It’s unfortunate that politics is played here. I’ve been accused of theatrics on it, but it’s not my motivation at all. I just don’t want to see people arrested that are using it for legitimate medical purposes¿. My affirmative defense is a way to do it without legalizing marijuana and without going down the road that is quite controversial.”

(Kinzel) Sears says he drafted a new approach because he’s concerned that the House bill sends the wrong message to the public:

(Sears) “Kids that I have talked with think we are legalizing pot up here and that’s a concern. The second concern I have with the House bill is I don’t think they heard from the opponents. I’ve been hearing now from law enforcement, hearing from the medical society and other groups that have concerns about this bill.”

(Kinzel) Although this bill has been sitting on the calendar of the Senate all this week without any action, supporters are hopeful that it will come up for debate in the Senate at the beginning of next week.

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

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