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VT governor reiterates opposition to medical marijuana

May 6th, 2004
Tim McCahill
Associated Press

Gov. James Douglas repeated his concerns about medical marijuana on Thursday, one day after a House committee approved a bill that would exempt patients with certain illnesses from arrest for using the drug.

The governor said the bill passed by the House Health and Welfare Committee was better because it was more "contained" than an earlier version approved last year by the Senate. But Douglas stopped short of saying whether he'd sign the bill if it passes both chambers and ends up on his desk.

"Let's see what the legislative process brings," Douglas told reporters at his weekly press conference.

The revised bill is more restrictive than the Senate-passed version, permitting only patients with cancer, AIDS, HIV or multiple sclerosis whose symptoms haven't responded to other kinds of treatment to grow a limited amount of marijuana inside a "secure indoor facility."

Patients and their caregivers would also have to apply and register for the program with the Department of Public Safety.

Chief among the governor's concerns about the measure is that federal law considers marijuana an illegal substance, something he said could put the state at loggerheads with the U.S. government.

"There's a collision between federal and state law if something is enacted by the General Assembly," Douglas said.

Endorsing the medical marijuana bill would also send a "mixed message" to Vermont's youth, he said, adding that the measure runs counter to the lessons he has brought to the state's school children about staying drug- and alcohol-free.

The governor did acknowledge the support for the medical marijuana bill.

"There's a lot of interest in it, and a lot of folks across Vermont seem to support it," Douglas said.

Douglas also told reporters about his testimony Wednesday in front of a federal task force on drug reimportation in Washington. He said he urged the task force to recommend that states be allowed to import low-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

Douglas has been reluctant to flout federal law, which doesn't explicitly permit drugs made in the U.S. to be sold in Canada then reimported at a reduced cost, and he made clear that he'll wait until Congress makes the system legal.

"What I want to do is get the law of the United States changed," he said.

Douglas' Democratic opponent in the race for governor, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, criticized Douglas for being "tepid" on the issue of drug reimportation.

"The state could provide some leadership, and some relief" to Vermonters dealing with the rising cost of prescription drugs, Clavelle said in an interview Thursday.

Burlington has an agreement with a Canadian company that allows city employees to buy prescription drugs from that country by mail order.

The mayor also was critical of Douglas' stance on medical marijuana.

"It's been interesting to watch the governor wring his hands over this issue," said Clavelle, whose constituents in March voted overwhelmingly to support the legalization of marijuana for medical use.

Copyright © 2004, Associated Press