MONTPELIER - Katherine Perrera says legislators debating the medical
benefits of marijuana should walk in her shoes for a week.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, Perrera says she's suffered from persistent
nausea for the past 14 years. She's tried other prescribed medications, but
she's found their effects to be erratic.

"I'm admitting to doing something that at least as of today is not allowed,
and that bothers me," Perrera told members of the Senate Health and Welfare
Committee on Tuesday. "It's not an example I'd want to set for my children.

"However, the benefits that I get from marijuana allow me to be a mother,
to be a business owner, to be a good wife, to be a sister and a daughter,
to be actively involved in my life."

A bill passed by the House earlier this month would allow people like
Perrera suffering from debilitating diseases to treat some of their
symptoms with marijuana.

It exempts from prosecution those who use marijuana after obtaining a
certificate from a doctor authorizing its use. Physicians issuing those
certificates also would be protected against state sanctions.

The bill's prospects in the Senate are uncertain, even though a number of
influential senators have said they were open to the idea of medical marijuana.

Gov. Howard Dean, who strongly opposes it, has suggested he would pressure
some of his allies in the Senate to block the bill.

Perrera told the Senate committee that the marijuana she has used has had a
very real effect on her quality of life.

"If I can relieve that nausea, it frees me to play with my children, to
talk to my mother on the phone," she said.

Opponents of the House bill have expressed concern that the bill is an
attempt to decriminalize marijuana altogether.

The House has agreed to conduct a study about how the use of medical
marijuana helped those who used it, and whether it resulted in more illegal
drug use. House lawmakers also agreed to make the law effective only
through 2006.

Perrera said she has acknowledged the risks of many different drugs she's
taken to treat her illness and symptoms over the years.

"If I'm allowed to sign my life away in the name of science and research,
it's really hard to understand why with the help of my doctor I can't make
a choice to use a drug that really helps me," she said.

Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, the House bill's lead sponsor, told the
Senate committee Tuesday that the bill included provisions to prevent
marijuana from being used for other purposes.

"We are creating a distinction between medical use of marijuana and
non-medical ... recreational use of marijuana," Zuckerman told the senators.

People with certificates could keep a supply of no more than three mature
plants, four immature plants or 3 ounces of usable marijuana, Zuckerman said.

"Let's look at who's using it and why," Zuckerman told the committee, when
asked about the potential potency of some marijuana plants.

"They're going to be very cautious when they go to utilize this new
medication," he said.

If the medical marijuana bill became law, Vermont would become the ninth
state to ignore federal laws banning marijuana and authorize its medical use.

Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Tue, 26 Mar 2002
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2002 Rutland Herald
Author: Krista Larson, The Associated Press