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House Panel OKs Medical Pot Bill

Sat, 8 May 2004
Tim McCahill

A House committee has passed a revised version of a medical marijuana bill that would exempt patients with certain illnesses from arrest and prosecution for possession of limited amounts of the drug.

Wednesday's vote by the Health and Welfare Committee ends the latest chapter in what has been a lengthy and sometimes hotly debated voyage for the measure, an earlier version of which was approved by the Senate last year.

Committee Chairman Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre, said last month that he was reluctant to pass that version of the legislation.

This week he offered an amended bill that limits what kinds of illnesses patients must have to qualify to use marijuana, requires patients to apply and register for the drug with the Department of Public Safety and reduces the number of plants patients can cultivate in their homes from seven to three.

Burlington Progressive Rep. David Zuckerman said the changes reduced the number of people who could use marijuana for medical purposes. He said the original legislation would have allowed a broader range of people to use the drug, including people suffering from pain that couldn't be relieved with prescription medicine like OxyContin.

He also questioned why the amended bill required patients to register with the Department of Public Safety rather than the Agency of Human Services as stipulated in the earlier version.

Under the bill passed by the House committee patients with terminal cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and certain other ailments would be eligible to grow limited amounts of marijuana inside a "secure indoor facility." The Department of Public Safety would keep a database of those registered in the program.

Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper praised the revised version.

"I have indicated that the committee did an excellent job in narrowing the use of marijuana to those individuals most critically in need," said Sleeper, who listened to the panel debate the measure. "This is more restrictive than S.76," the Senate version of the bill.

The legislation now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee. Zuckerman said he was confident the measure would get to the full House for a vote by the end of the session.

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