Vermont medical marijuana points misunderstood

August 30, 2005

Rep. Anne Donahue, Times Argus

As a legislator deeply involved in working to achieve a compromise that would allow access to marijuana for symptom relief for those with severe illnesses, I certainly have great sympathy for the gentleman who cannot access it from his nursing home. However, there is significant misinformation flying all over the place about what the bill did or did not do.

First, it did not legalize "medical marijuana." It allowed limited access without fear of state prosecution. Shame on Commissioner Kerry Sleeper, himself a fierce opponent of the bill, for now referring to it as "medication" on WCAX. The Legislature did not choose to play physician or scientist by defining it that way, and it is a misleading reference under the law.

Second, having a registration card under Vermont law has not been shown to be "worthless." The gentleman was not arrested for possession of marijuana by state authorities, which is exactly the protection the law offers.

Fortunately, it was not federal authorities who came in. It has been explicit from the beginning that federal law is not affected by Vermont's agreement not to prosecute.

Third, the law does not give anyone a right to possess marijuana except in "a building or room equipped with locks or other security devices that permit access only by a registered caregiver or registered patient."

Fourth, the law does not create any obligation on the part of a property owner to allow a registered patient to keep or use marijuana on the premises, and because its presence on one's property may place one in violation of federal law, there are good reasons for someone — whether an ordinary landlord or a nursing home — to say no.

It may be a fair debate to argue whether a person in a nursing home should have specific protection added to the law if they are a registered patient for marijuana use. But let's not confuse the facts of current law, as though unanswered questions swirl around the confiscation of this particular marijuana cigarette.

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