State News

Senate passes expanded medical marijuana bill

On Friday, March 2, the Vermont Senate approved bill S.216, to allow medical marijuana sales for any “disease, condition, or treatment as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s health care professional,” according to page 334, of the March 1 Senate Journal.

S.216 also requires the Vermont Department of Agriculture to establish marijuana testing laboratories, a necessary step towards legalizing commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. The bill does not say how much these laboratories will cost or how they will be paid for.

Vermont legalized medical marijuana in 2004. Supporters said it treated cancer pain. Since then, the list of pot-treatable diseases has expanded dramatically. S.216 removes any limit to the “debilitating conditions” for which marijuana may be prescribed, and gives prescribing powers to any “health care professional.”

Coupled with a law passed last year allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate as for-profit businesses, S.216 would allow public promotion and sale of marijuana to virtually anyone for any “medical” reason, wrote Guy Page, Advocacy Director, Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

The bill was sponsored by Judiciary Chair Richard Sears (Bennington), the driving force behind full-scale commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana.

The bill now goes to the Vermont House, which approved a personal possession bill earlier this year but is believed to be less sympathetic to commercial sale.

“This isn’t the first time lawmakers and the drug industry have pushed pain relief without adequate input from doctors,” Page said. The opioid crisis began after federal regulators, Congress and Big Pharma identified pain as a “vital sign” in the late 90s, he said. The “pain chart” became a required part of assessment and treatment. After a physician was successfully sued for refusing to fill an opiate prescription requested by the patient, resistance to over prescribing opiates crumbled, resulting in the ongoing and horrific opiate epidemic, Page noted.

As a Better Vermont physician and member said recently, “When politicians, lobbyists, and an addictive drug industry, all non-physicians, practice medicine through legislation they do harm to an unsuspecting public, especially when physicians’ advice is summarily dismissed.”

After passing S.216, the Senate then suspended its own procedural rules and sent the bill immediately to the House of Representatives. Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont had urged the House to carefully listen to Vermont physicians about the dangers of commercially-driven over-prescription of an addictive, psychoactive drug, and to reject S.216 for that reason.

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