Senate Approves Medicinal Marijuana Bill

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(Host) By a vote of 22 to 7, the Senate Tuesday gave its approval to a medicinal marijuana bill. But the legislation is very different from a plan passed by the House several weeks ago.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Under the Senate bill, the possession of marijuana for any reason is still illegal but the legislation allows patients with chronic illnesses to use what is known as "an affirmative defense" in the event that they are arrested. A judge would then be able consider the circumstances of the situation when determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

This approach is very different from the one adopted by the House. The House bill would allow patients to get their doctor’s approval to use marijuana and individuals could grow up to three plants for their personal use.

Supporters of the Senate bill argued that the House plan basically legalized the use of marijuana and sent the wrong message to young people. Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Nancy Chard said the goal of the Senate plan was to provide some pain relief to patients who desperately need it:

(Chard) "I want to acknowledge up front and clear there is no empirical clinical evidence of the effectiveness of marijuana in treating the number of things that we have listed. I don’t believe there is an individual in this body who will live long enough to see clinical trials on medical marijuana. It simply is not a priority. And so where does the evidence come from? The evidence is anecdotal, the evidence comes from patients, the evidence comes from advocacy groups, the evidence comes from care givers."

(Kinzel) But Chittenden Senator Jim Leddy said the Senate plan did not go far enough:

(Leddy) "However well-intentioned, in my judgment this amendment essentially says we feel your pain but no matter how much we feel your pain and no matter how real your pain is, it remains a crime for you to grow marijuana to use for these purposes."

(Host) A House-Senate conference committee is now expected to meet on this bill. Backers of the Senate plan say they won’t compromise on the basic elements of their legislation and they would rather have no bill at all than passage of the House proposal this year.

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

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