MONTPELIER - Lawmakers are considering a measure that would legalize the
use and cultivation of marijuana in the state for medicinal purposes.

The House Judiciary Committee began taking testimony Friday on a bill that
would exempt seriously ill people and physicians from being prosecuted for
using and growing specified amounts of marijuana.

"Not just anyone can use this; you need it based on a recommendation of a
doctor," Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, told the committee. "There are
a number of debilitating medical conditions ... and for some this is the
only way they have to alleviate their symptoms."

Zuckerman, the lead sponsor of the measure, said the bill outlines specific
restrictions on the use of the drug including that patients obtain a
prescription and it not be used in prisons, on school grounds or while
operating heavy machinery and public vehicles.

The bill also limits the quantity patients and physicians can possess or
cultivate to an amount that would allow for treatment but not exceed three
ounces or in cases of plants - three mature plants and four immature plants.

Zuckerman told the committee of national data supporting the use of
marijuana to alleviate symptoms such as nausea, severe pain and persistent
muscle spasms that can be associated with a variety of ailments including
cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease.

"We're not going to solve everybody's problems with this bill," he said,
noting that eight other states have similar laws on the books including
Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Washington. While there was
concern that the federal government would crack down on states passing such
laws, he said that has not been the case so far in any of the states.

Responding to questions about the bill, Zuckerman said insurance companies
would not be required to cover the use of marijuana as a treatment.

The proposal would allow individuals or private, nonprofit organizations to
cultivate certain amounts of the plant so as not to encourage patients or
doctors to obtain it by illegal means.

The state already has a marijuana law on the books. It was passed in 1981,
but the rules necessary to administer the law, which set up a cannabis
therapeutic program, were never finalized by the state Department of Health.

This new measure could spur a spirited debate between those who support it
and those who oppose it.

On one side is Gov. Howard Dean, a physician, who has said he opposes it,
in part, because it is a health risk to inhale it. On the other side is a
cross section of more than 40 House Republicans, Democrats and Progressives
who have signed on to the bill as well as leaders in the Senate.

"Personally I think it's a thoughtful bill," said Senate President Pro Tem
Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. "For many people, it can be the difference
between living a tolerable life and living an intolerable life."

House Speaker Walter Freed, R-Dorset, said he was reserving judgment on the
bill until hearing more information.

"I'm curious to hear the debate," he said.

The committee is expected to continue testimony next week.

Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Fri, 15 Feb 2002
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2002 Rutland Herald
Author: Tracy Schmaler