Medical Marijuana Patient Stripped of Drug

August 24, 2005

Andy Potter, WCAX-TV (Burlington, VT)

Shayne Higgins says he was diagnosed with MS in 1997 and last winter was placed here, in the Starr Farm nursing home. In January he applied for a medical marijuana card. But the card wasn't worth the plastic it's made out of when a nursing home employee found a marijuana joint and the police were called.

"Police came in and they started going through my stuff and they found a little bit of marijuana that I had. I showed 'em my card but that didn't do any good. They just kept it and took off with it," says Higgins.

The card is issued by the Vermont Marijuana Registry. But only nineteen of these have been issued. Exactly why Higgins' marijuana was confiscated remains unclear.

Starr Farm says it checked with the Marijuana Registry and was told that since the nursing home receives federal funding, the federal law prohibiting the possession of marijuana applies in any circumstances.

Public safety commissioner Kerry Sleeper was surprised to hear that. He says no one in his agency offered advice to the nursing home.

"I need to make it very clear: the state of Vermont, the Department of Public Safety, did not provide information to Starr Farm Nursing Home that resulted in this person having their medication removed from them," says Sleeper.

Advocates for Higgins and for medical marijuana say his rights were violated. Higgins is the first but probably not the last patient to find out that his card would not keep his pot from being confiscated.

"You know, we suspected that something like this might happen eventually," says Nancy Lynch.

Lynch heads the Vermont Marijuana Policy Project -- part of a nationwide lobby for more lenient marijuana laws -- notes that marijuana cards are limited to patients with the most serious diseases -- AIDS, MS and Cancer. She worries they too might lose their pot if they land in a nursing home.

Higgins himself has no recourse.

"I can't just go out and find it. I don't know where to get it any more," says Higgins.

Starr Farm nursing home declined comment other than a press release claiming it turned to the Vermont Marijuana Registry for guidance. Public Safety commissioner Kerry Sleeper says that guidance did not include any recommendation that the nursing home prevent the use of medical marijuana in its facility.

So the question remains whether in fact there are any restrictions on using medical marijuana in federally-funded institutions.

We don't have a conclusive answer at this point. However, law enforcement officials do make it clear that marijuana use is still illegal as far as the federal government is concerned -- even for people on the medical marijuana registry.

Andy Potter - Channel 3 News

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