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Vt. weighs expanding marijuana law

Considers other medicinal uses

MONTPELIER -- The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would expand the state's medical marijuana law to include additional diseases and allow people permitted to use marijuana to grow more for their own use.

Senators heard testimony Thursday from people who suffer from ailments not covered by the existing two-year-old law, people who say they can't get enough marijuana legally, and law enforcement representatives who are urging caution in expanding the law.

Max Schlueter, director of the Vermont Crime Information Center, told lawmakers the Medical Marijuana Registry program was working smoothly. There are 29 people registered, down from a high of 34, he said.

The bill, introduced by Senator Richard Sears, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a Democrat from Bennington, would expand the list of qualifying diseases, allow registered participants to grow more plants, and cut the registration fee in half to $50.

Steve Perry of Randolph Center uses illegal marijuana to ease the symptoms of degenerative bone disease, which causes squeezing pain, electric shock-like sensations when he turns his neck the wrong way, and crippling muscle spasms.

"Because the law doesn't allow me to legally use or obtain marijuana, I have to put myself at risk of being arrested and going to jail every time I need to ease the pain," Perry said.

Mark Tucci of Manchester uses marijuana to ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

But the current law doesn't allow him to grow enough marijuana, forcing him to buy it illegally at great expense. "I'm getting sick of going out to try to find the stuff," said Tucci.

Public Safety commissioner Kerry Sleeper said there had been an increase in illegal drug use, and he didn't want to encourage that.

Jane Woodruff, executive director of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, said she feared that increasing the number of plants a patient could have could make participants' homes targets for criminals.