Vermont House: Very Sick Can Use Marijuana

May 13, 2004

James Jardin, Caledonian-Record

MONTPELIER, VERMONT -- The House of Representatives spent four hours Thursday debating proposals to allow patients suffering from chronic pain to smoke marijuana to alleviate their pain. The debate followed a vote late Wednesday in the Senate to allow certain seriously ill patients to possess limited amounts of marijuana. After the Senate amended a House bill by adding a medical marijuana section, the bill returned to the House for a vote.

The House debate was emotional and divisive. Supporters of the proposal to allow patients to possess marijuana said they believed allowing patients in intractable pain to smoke marijuana to relieve the pain was a kind and compassionate act that would be limited to a small number of people each year. Opponents said the bill would violate federal law, which makes the possession and use of marijuana, a Class A regulated drug, illegal. They said approving legislation that violates federal law violates the oath of office legislators took when they were sworn in.

The final vote of the day approved a House bill dealing with medical care directives amended by a House Health and Welfare Committee marijuana proposal by a vote of 79-48 with 23 members not voting. The vote meant the proposal was approved on its second reading and was advanced for a third and final vote today.

The proposal approved by the House requires a patient to have an established doctor-patient relationship for six months prior to a patient's application to possess and use marijuana. To be eligible, a patient must be receiving end-of-life care for cancer or AIDS or other specific conditions with intractable symptoms and no success with other treatments.

Patients may possess a limit of one mature plant, two immature plants and two ounces of usable marijuana. A patient must complete an application with the Department of Public Safety. The department will review the application and conduct a criminal records check. The applicant must pay a $100 application fee.

Northeast Kingdom representatives voting in favor of the House Health and Welfare proposal include Donald Bostic, R-St. Johnsbury, David Brown, R-Walden, John Rodgers, D-Glover, and Bobby Starr, D-Troy. Kingdom representatives who voted against the proposal were David Bolduc, R-Orleans, David Clark, R-St. Johnsbury, John Hall, R-Newport, Cola Hudson, R-Lyndon, Bill Johnson, R-Canaan, Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport, Leigh Larocque, R-Barnet, Janice Peaslee, R-Guildhall, Loren Shaw, R-Derby, and Nancy Sheltra, R-Derby. Steve Larrabee, R-Danville, was absent for the vote.

The passage of the House version of a marijuana bill followed votes on two earlier proposals. Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, introduced an amendment that was more liberal in its scope than the Health and Welfare version. It was defeated by a vote of 49 in favor and 87 against. Rep. Bobby Starr, D-Troy, was the only Kingdom representative to vote in favor of the Zuckerman proposal. On the next vote, the House voted to substitute the Health and Welfare amendment in place of the Senate amendment by a vote of 113-21.

Today, the House of Representatives will vote on the bill on its third and final reading. If it is approved, which is likely, the bill must return to the Senate for a vote. The Senate must vote on whether to approve the House action, which substitutes a House amendment for an amendment approved by the Senate Wednesday night.

Wednesday night the full Senate took up a bill titled 'Directives for Health Care.' The bill, H.752, is a House bill that outlines new guidelines and rules for persons who wish to create advanced directives for their health care should they become seriously ill. After the full House passed the bill, it went to the Senate for a vote.

While in the Senate, the Senate amended the House advanced directives bill by tacking on a Senate medical marijuana proposal. The Senate then approved the marijuana amendment and subsequently approved the underlying bill and its amendment and returned the amended House bill to the House for a new vote.

The Senate action Wednesday night set up the four-hour House debate and votes on Thursday.

Sen. Bernier Mayo, R-Caledonia, was one of 17 senators who sponsored the medical marijuana amendment. The proposal to amend the advanced directives bill passed by a vote of 22-6. The amended bill was then approved by the Senate on a voice vote.

Locally, Sens. Mayo and James Greenwood, R-Essex-Orleans, voted to approve the marijuana amendment, while Sens. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, and Julius Canns, R-Caledonia, opposed adding the marijuana amendment.

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