Medical pot denied at nursing home

August 24, 2005

Associated Press, Boston Globe

A man who qualified for the state's medical marijuana registry cannot use marijuana to ease the pain of multiple sclerosis because he lives in a nursing home, pointing to a potential flaw in the state's 2004 law.

Shayne Higgins, is one of about 15 people on the state's medical marijuana registry, which theoretically allows him to legally possess and consume marijuana.

But in March, when the staff at Starr Farm Nursing Center in Burlington found a marijuana cigarette in Higgins' room, they called police, who seized the cigarette.

Burlington Police Deputy Chief Stephen Wark said the officer confiscated the cigarette because Starr Farm doesn't allow smoking on the premises. Higgins wasn't charged after he showed the officer his medical marijuana registry card, he said.

"If this were his house, we wouldn't have taken it," Wark said.

Starr Farm Nursing Center administrators said in a statement Wednesday that they cannot allow marijuana on the premises because the federal government doesn't recognize Vermont's medical marijuana law and the nursing home receives federal funding. That advice came from state registry officials at the Department of Public Safety, the statement said.

"A registry representative informed us that because our facility receives federal funds, and federal law prohibits the possession and use of marijuana, its possession and use in our facility is against the law, and therefore is strictly prohibited," the statement said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that state laws don't protect users from federal prosecution. At the time, medical marijuana advocates thought that decision would have little impact in Vermont, where the state law is intended to help MS, AIDS and cancer patients with pain and appetite problems.

"I'd like to be able to use it," Higgins, 44, said of the drug. "It helps with the pain and it gives me the munchies."

Nancy Lynch of the Vermont Marijuana Policy Project, which helped fight for the medical marijuana law, said there should be an allowance for someone in his situation to use marijuana.

"Nursing homes need to be educated. Hospitals need to be educated. Doctors need to be educated," she said.



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