Medical Marijuana bill aims to change conditions

January 11, 2007

Brandon Canevari, Editor, Manchester Journal

MANCHESTER - Vermont State Senators Richard Sears (D - Bennington), John F. Campbell (D - Windsor), Ed Flanagan (D - Chittenden) and Jeanette K. White (D - Windham) have introduced a bill, which if passed, will not only alter the conditions under which people may use medicinal marijuana, but also the amount they may possess.

Under the old law, medicinal marijuana could be prescribed for cancer or AIDS patients who were at the end of their life. The law also stipulated that cancer, AIDS, HIV positive and multiple sclerosis patients may receive medicinal marijuana if other efforts to treat the ailment had been made and the disease, condition or its treatment were still causing significant pain.

The new rule proposed in the bill would allow cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV positive, and AIDS patients to receive medicinal marijuana. Also, if the symptoms resulting from the treatment of any one of these conditions became "severe, persistent and intractable," then a doctor may prescribe marijuana. In addition, the bill also states that a person with "a life-threatening, progressive, and debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces severe, persistent, and intractable symptoms ..." would be eligible to have marijuana prescribed to them by a doctor.

Sears said it is the "life threatening" portion of the bill that he expects to be closely scrutinized - saying he wondered if a person necessarily had to have a life threatening condition to be eligible to have medicinal marijuana prescribed to them.

The biggest change to the bill is the amount of medical marijuana that a person may possess. The current law states that a person and their caregiver may collectively possess one mature marijuana plant, two immature plants, and two ounces of usable marijuana. The new bill seeks to increase the amount a patient and their caregiver can possess. If passed, a patient and their caregiver may possess six mature plants, 18 immature plants and four ounces of usable marijuana.

Sears said the reason he wants to increase the amount of medical marijuana people are allowed to possess is because of the testimony he has received from people, such as Mark Tucci, of Manchester, who has multiple sclerosis, one of the afflictions that qualifies as a life threatening illness.

"When I found out that Mark still had to go out on the black market to get the drugs he needed for the relief of his symptoms, that had a huge impact on me," said Sears. "The amount of marijuana that can be possessed is very problematic if you're forcing people who are on the registry to find other methods."

Tucci smokes multiple times a day to help alleviate the pain of multiple sclerosis. In a month, Tucci said he consumes two ounces of marijuana. Because of the current law, he said he is forced to get two-thirds of his medicine on the black market - at a significant personal expense. He said the cost for him to grow a plant was about $25 to $30. However, the cost of an ounce of marijuana on the black market is at least $400. In addition, Tucci said the quality of the product is inferior to the kind he has grown for him.

"The specific strains we have, one works better on pain, one works better on spasms," Tucci said.

Tucci hopes that when the bill comes before legislators they will not be hesitant in signing it. In fact, he believes there is only one reason why the bill will not be signed into law.

"The only reason is the law enforcement issue. Law enforcement is going to do their job and say there is more drugs out on the street," he said. "But the reality is one, kids can get pot easier than cigarettes and booze. Two, law enforcement has better things to do than go around chasing pot heads and three, and this is most important, is the gateway theory has been rebuked by science for years. ... UCLA proved that there was no proof that it caused lung cancer."

"So if you don't have the drug problem, you don't have the gateway theory and you don't have the health theory, what is the problem?" Tucci added.

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