Senate likely to accept compromise on medical marijuana

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(Host) Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch says the Senate is expected to accept the House’s more restrictive plan on medical marijuana to ensure that a bill passes this year. Governor Jim Douglas says allowing the bill to become law without his signature is one of the options he’s reviewing with this legislation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) With time running out on this legislative session, supporters of a proposed medical marijuana law have decided that a partial victory on this issue is better than no bill at all.

Last year the Senate passed legislation that allowed patients with serious and chronic illnesses to use marijuana after consulting with their doctor. Last week, the House gave its approval to a bill that limits marijuana use to individuals with four specific illnesses: cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS. People who want to use marijuana for symptom relief would be required to register with the Department of Public Safety.

The Senate now has two options: accept the House approach or ask for a conference committee to fight for their own plan, a move that will almost certainly kill the bill for the session. Senate President Peter Welch thinks it makes sense to accept the House plan:

(Welch) “I think in the end we’re going to want to do this because even though it’s a big disappointment from the bill that was passed by the Senate and I think a much better bill, it does provide legal recognition by the state of Vermont that marijuana is appropriately used to relieve pain for people who are really suffering.”

(Kinzel) Governor Douglas, who’s been a vocal opponent of the medical marijuana bill, says there’s no doubt that the more restrictive House plan is much better than the original Senate bill:

(Douglas) “I made it clear throughout this process that if a bill is going to pass then it needs to be as narrow as possible. So I certainly prefer the House version to the original S76, which was far too broad and had some real law enforcement as well as health implications.”

(Kinzel) If the bill reaches his desk, Douglas has three options. He could sign it, he could veto it or he says he could let it become law without his signature.

(Douglas) “It’s certainly one of the three options available to me. I’ll have five days to decide if and when I get a bill.”

(Kinzel) The bill could be on the Senate floor for debate as early as Wednesday.

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

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