Marijuana Dispensaries Moving Forward

The Vermont Senate has advanced a bill to push the state beyond allowing people with debilitating illnesses to smoke marijuana, giving patients places to buy it for the first time.

By a vote of 25-4 Thursday evening, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow the establishment of four state-licensed dispensaries, which would be able to grow marijuana under the supervision of the Department of Public Safety and sell it to people who have a written statement from a doctor saying they could be helped by the drug.

Vermont is one of 14 states and the District of Columbia that allow people who have a doctor’s written recommendation to be immune from state prosecution for possession of limited quantities of marijuana to be used for relief of symptoms of illnesses ranging from cancer to AIDS. More than 340 patients currently are on a registry kept by the DPS, the agency that includes the Vermont State Police.

“We’ve given people the ability to have marijuana, but we’ve given them no ability to get it in a safe manner with a quality-controlled product,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, a chief sponsor of the bill. Opponents argued the bill would put Vermont in violation of federal law. Sen. Richard Mazza, D-Chittenden-Grand Isle, said previous public safety commissioners, unlike current Commissioner Keith Flynn, had opposed the measure. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in our commissioner of public safety,” he told his Senate colleagues. The state currently allows patients to grow their own marijuana or have a specially designated caregiver do it for them. But for some people, that’s a challenge. “Vermont law allows patients to grow, but it has to be inside,” said Virginia Renfrew, a lobbyist for the Vermont People With AIDS Coalition. “For many patients who don’t have a green thumb, this has not been easy.” The result has been patients going to the illegal market, where there are concerns about safety and product quality. During the Senate debate, White quoted one patient who wrote to her Government Operations Committee, saying: “Folks with fast moving diseases who could be helped could literally die before their first crop came in. For those folks to apply for and get grow permits, and then go through growing, weeding out the male plants, timing the lights right etc. when they are just trying to do something as simple as to eat without vomiting is a travesty.” Another wrote: “I’m 73 years old. How do I know what a drug dealer looks like? Where should I go to try to find one?” Renfrew said one advantage of legal dispensaries is that they would be able to grow strains chosen for their effectiveness with specific illnesses. Some types of marijuana are better for treating the effects of chemotherapy cancer treatment, while others are more effective with AIDS patients, she said. The bill calls for tight controls on the dispensaries, to address concerns some lawmakers and law enforcement officials have voiced about abuses in other states where stores selling marijuana have proliferated. Vermont would be limited to four dispensaries operating in a secure setting and not as a storefront. Each would pay a $32,000 annual licensing fee, after putting up a $2,500 application fee that wouldn’t be refunded even if their application was rejected. The fate of the measure in the House is uncertain. With just three weeks left in Vermont’s annual January-to-May legislative session, there may not be enough time for the House to study and pass the bill, said Rep. William Lippert, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Alexandra MacLean, secretary of civil and military affairs and a top aide to Gov. Peter Shumlin, said Shumlin is a “strong supporter” of the bill and will be disappointed if the House doesn’t pass it. Mazza, in an interview before the Senate vote, said he has “always believed there’s no such thing as medical marijuana. It just opens the door to legalization and if that’s the intent, it ought to be sold that way.” Mazza also noted that even for Vermont residents who have a doctor’s approval and the state’s OK, it’s still illegal to possess or smoke marijuana under federal law. And he argued that the medical profession has alternatives. “The medical profession certainly has the expertise and the medicines that do the same for folks who are ill,” he said. That has been disputed by some patients who have told lawmakers that of all the drugs they’ve tried, marijuana gave them the best relief from their symptoms.

via : The Associated Press

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