Vermont legalized medical marijuana five years ago. But eligible patients who want to use the plant to ease chronic pain and nausea have been forced to either grow their own or resort to the black market, since the state never established a legal outlet to obtain it.
A state lawmaker plans in 2010 to introduce legislation that would solve this problem. The bill would create compassion centers where people on Vermont’s medical marijuana registry can buy their medicine, reports Peter Hirschfeld
of the Vermont Press Bureau.
“What is driving me is a sense of compassion and fairness,” said Chris Bray (D-New Haven). “This is a drug we have vetted as a state as being appropriate for people with defined medical conditions and yet we haven’t provided a safe and legal way for them to purchase it.”
Bray said a constituent, one of 189 people registered as medical marijuana patients in Vermont, has suffered because of Vermont’s lack of dispensaries. “He resents the fact, and I think justifiably, that he was pushed into buying medical marijuana from illicit sources, which is expensive and illegal and often not even available to him,” Bray said.
|Photo: University of Vermont
|Rep. Chris Bray: “I think we have unnecessary obstacles in the way of delivering health care that we’ve already decided is safe and effective for these people”
Bray said the man, a multiple sclerosis patient, has had to endure weeks without the marijuana that would most effectively alleviate his painful symptoms.
“I think we have unnecessary obstacles in the way of delivering health care that we’ve already decided is safe and effective for these people,” Bray said.
Predictably, Commissioner of Public Safety Thomas Tremblay claimed he’d heard “horror stories” from law enforcement officials in other states which have dispensaries. “It concerns me because this idea violates federal law,” Tremblay said. “And from what I’m hearing from other states that have these in place, the dispensaries have been quite a problem.”
Actually, in the only state that currently has a working, state-run dispensary system — New Mexico — the only problem so far has been the lone dispensary in the state is often out of herb, and thus unable to fulfill the needs of patients.
The voters of Maine approved state-run dispensaries in November 2008, but state officials are still in the planning and logistics stage, and it could be months until dispensaries open there.
California’s dispensary system, which is almost invariably cited as a “bad example,” doesn’t have a state licensing program in place. The job of regulating dispensaries has so far fallen largely to municipalities in the Golden State.
Tremblay said he sees medical marijuana legislation and the looming debate over dispensaries as leading up to efforts at blanket legalization of the herb.
“I believe that the original idea behind this law was to put us on a slipper slope toward potentially legalizing marijuana and this, I think, is the next step,” he said.
Bray, however, said his efforts are focused solely on patients already eligible for legal medical marijuana in Vermont.
Vermont multiple sclerosis patient Chris Tucci
, one of the first on the state’s registry
, bristles at suggestions that medical marijuana is some kind of stoner scheme to achieve across-the-board legalization. “This is about real patients in serious pain who are being denied an effective and proven medicine,” he said.
According to reporter Peter Hirschfeld, the bill has little chance of progressing in the 2010 legislative session. The chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees say time will likely be devoted to “more pressing issues.”