(press release from the Marijuana Policy Project, http://www.mpp.org)
Without comment or fanfare, on June 21 Gov. Howard Dean (D) signed legislation setting up a state task force to study how Vermont should go about protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest. While the measure provides no immediate protection to seriously ill Vermonters who need marijuana to relieve their symptoms, the new law sets the wheels in motion for solid patient protection next year.
The compromise measure was agreed to by a House-Senate conference committee after a strong bill, modeled on the medical marijuana laws now on the books in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, passed the House of Representatives on March 15 and a much weaker bill passed the Senate on May 14. "The General Assembly finds that state law should make a distinction between the medical and non-medical use of marijuana," the conference report declared. The measure, S. 193, establishes a task force "to investigate and assess options for legal protections which will allow seriously ill Vermonters to use medical marijuana without facing criminal prosecution under Vermont law."
This committee, which will include representatives from law enforcement, the medical community and seriously ill patients, must report its findings to the governor and the General Assembly by January 15, 2003, in time for legislators to take up the matter next year.
"This is a mixed bag," said Billy Rogers, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We had hoped that Governor Dean and the Senate leadership would accept the House bill, which would have spared patients fighting cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis from the possibility of arrest simply for trying to relieve their suffering. They had an opportunity to protect Vermont's most vulnerable citizens, and they failed.
"Still, the committee this bill sets up isn't studying whether to protect patients, but how to protect them," Rogers added. "After they review the success of the eight state laws now on the books, we believe they will conclude that in 2003, Vermont should become the ninth state to protect seriously ill people who need medical marijuana. Chances are excellent for passage of a solid bill next year, but it's frustrating that people in real need have to spend another year living in fear."
Visit http://www.mpp.org/pdf/vermontbill02.pdf to read the new Vermont law in full.