Vermont Senate backs medical marijuana dispensaries

MONTPELIER — Sen. Philip Baruth stood on the Senate floor Thursday evening and told the story of how two relatives — his grandmother and aunt — had cancer and doctors told them marijuana might help them.

His grandmother was too horrified to consider it, the Chittenden County Democrat said. In the case of his aunt, he was a college student and found himself in a tough spot.

“I was in the strange position of having my mother come to me and ask me if I knew any way we could procure marijuana,” he said. He told her he did, he said, though he was jeopardizing his student loan, his place at college and his record.

It was in memory of his aunt, Baruth said, that he was voting Thursday for a bill that would allow up to four medical marijuana dispensaries to be established in Vermont.

The majority of his fellow senators agreed, voting 25-4 to give the bill preliminary approval.

“We will protect patients by providing a legal source,” Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, told senators.

A 2004 law allowed those with specific medical conditions to sign up for the state’s medical marijuana registry and use the drug without repercussion. This bill would give those patients a legal means of obtaining marijuana if they were unable to grow it themselves, White said.

The bill is not without opposition.

“I’m still amazed something illegal under federal guidelines is being made legal,” said Sen. Richard Mazza, D-Grand Isle/Chittenden, who voted against it.

Mazza said he was disappointed in Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn for supporting the bill, as a previous public safety commissioner opposed going against federal law.

Flynn, who was appointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, who also supports the bill, gave his backing after various safety measures were added, including a provision that patients may register with only one dispensary and that Public Safety will establish rules governing the dispensaries.

Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex/Olreans, who is also the Essex County prosecutor, said he has heard from police who oppose the dispensaries. “It puts law enforcement in a position of violating federal law,” he said.

Virginia Renfrew, who represents the People with AIDS Coalition, said patients need a safe, reliable source of the right strain of marijuana for their ailment.

“Dispensaries will know what strain will be good for you,” she said. “That, for me, is huge. On the black market, you don’t know what to look for.”

After another vote in the Senate today, the bill goes to the House, where Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said time is running out this legislative session, but he will forward the bill to the House Human Services Committee.

“My hope is they can move it if they have enough time,” he said.

via : Burlington Free Press

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