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Expansion of MMJ Law Gets Preliminary OK


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State senators gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would expand a Vermont law that permits marijuana to be used to alleviate some medical conditions. The action came amid calls by two public officials to decriminalize the drug.

But lawmakers were quick to point out that they were not approving decriminalization -- or even suggesting it. Neither were they taking a step toward legalizing pot, they said.

"Vermont would remain the most restrictive state. It is well regulated," said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington. "This is a baby step forward. I don't think it's earth-shattering."

Vermont permits people with cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis to use marijuana to relieve some of the symptoms of their condition. They must register with the state and consult with a physician before they do.

They're permitted to have a limited number of plants only for their own use.

The bill acted on by the Senate -- which could get approval by the full Senate on Thursday -- would replace the specific diseases provision, allowing anyone with a "debilitating disease" to qualify if "reasonable medical efforts have been made over a reasonable amount of time without success to relieve the symptoms."

That would mean that someone with shingles, a painful neurological condition, for example, could potentially qualify for marijuana use to relieve the pain, said Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor.

"If they're getting relief (from marijuana), they should be afforded that," Campbell said.

The bill comes at a time when two prominent Vermont officials have called for scrapping the existing criminal laws for marijuana possession in favor of legal, regulated use of it. Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand has suggested such a change, as has Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon.

Senators said they aren't considering that. "This is just one more tool in the tool chest to help people in those chronic situations," said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland. "It does help people live with chronic pain that they're enduring."

Besides expanding the conditions that would qualify, the bill also would increase -- from one to four -- the number of mature marijuana plants a patient could possess. Patients also could have ten immature plants, up from two, and up to 2 ounces of usable marijuana.

Source: Associated Press
Author: Ross Sneyd
Copyright: 2007 Associated Press
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