Montpelier, VT: Governor Howard Dean (D) has approved legislation establishing the formation of a state task force to determine how the Vermont General Assembly can implement legal protections for patients who use marijuana medicinally. The General Assembly sought to establish the task force after the House and Senate could not reach an agreement regarding whether to legalize medicinal pot or establish an affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients.
Nine states have passed legislation since 1996 legalizing the use of medical pot by qualified patients.
The expressed purpose of Vermont’s task force is to “investigate and assess options for legal protections which would allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana without facing criminal prosecution under Vermont law.” By establishing the committee, the Vermont legislature recognizes that “state law should make a distinction between the medical and non-medical use of marijuana.”
The task force, which will be comprised primarily of health officials and patient representatives, is scheduled to report its findings to the governor and the General Assembly by January 15, 2003. In the meantime, state prosecutors have been asked by the Assembly to halt prosecutions for pot possession against anyone who is using the drug to treat symptoms of a serious illness.
Representative David Zuckerman (Progressive Party – Burlington), who sponsored legislation this spring to legalize the cultivation and use of medical marijuana, called the task force’s formation a “step in the right direction.” Although Zuckerman’s proposal successfully passed the House, it was tabled by the Senate, which backed an alternative bill establishing an affirmative defense for patients who possessed up to one ounce of medical marijuana.
Zuckerman speculates that the committee’s recommendation will encourage the General Assembly to pass substantive medical marijuana legislation next year. “I hope [that the task force] comes to the speedy conclusion that science has already shown: that marijuana has some very beneficial uses for certain types of illnesses and symptoms. The next year we can cut through the politics and do what is right for all Vermonters.”