MONTPELIER — The House Human Services Committee advanced a medical marijuana dispensary bill Friday without including post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying diagnosis for a medical marijuana card.
The committee added a bit of drama to the process, however.
Members initially voted 7-4 in a straw poll Friday morning in favor of adding language to the bill, S.247, to allow Vermonters to use medical marijuana to treat symptoms of PTSD.
For supporters, adding PTSD was simply an extension of other uses lawmakers have already approved, such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
“We have been very clear all along that this is marijuana for symptom relief,” said Rep. Bill Frank, D-Underhill. “If we have people who can get relief from using marijuana then we should allow it.”
The committee initially voted to add PTSD as an approved ailment, despite opposition from the chairwoman, Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington. The Senate had already stripped it.
“I am in favor of incremental change, but I think this is too big a change,” she said. “Sometimes taking baby steps is the way before you jump and take a big step.”
But the committee disbanded and headed to the House floor for the day’s business. That’s when Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, an ardent opponent of adding PTSD to the state’s medical marijuana program, began working on members.
An hour later the committee was back and Rep. Francis McFaun, R-Barre Town, asked the committee to reconsider its vote. He cited a lack of testimony taken by the committee as the reason.
Moments later the group voted unanimously to remove the proposed PTSD language and instead seek a study from the Department of Health on treating the disorder with medical marijuana.
Flynn said members were receptive to his message that adding PTSD would vastly expand the scope of the state’s program.
“This would essentially change the base of the program by having it move from something that was … a last resort after other treatments had been administered for symptom relief to making it a primary treatment mechanism, and that is not consistent with the program that we have now,” Flynn said.
He said he also warned lawmakers that the Public Safety Department might look to drop its role as the program’s administrator if PTSD was added.
“I had some real concerns, as (the PTSD language) existed, whether the Department of Public Safety would have been the appropriate organization to continue to run it if it, in fact, became a primary treatment tool,” he said.
Flynn said he supports the study added by the committee so a decision can be made in the future.
“We’re going to make good decisions based on good, quality information,” he said.
The House version of the bill differs from the Senate-passed bill in several respects. The Senate sought an expansion to six medical marijuana dispensaries. The House nixed the expansion and would keep the current four.
Other changes made in the House committee include:
Adding language to allow dispensaries to develop a form of medical marijuana to relieve symptoms of epilepsy in children.
Removing a required six-month doctor-patient relationship for some existing qualifying diseases before medical marijuana can be approved.
Narrowing a Senate-passed requirement that patients be free of a criminal record involving drugs.
Pugh said after Friday’s vote that differences between the House and Senate versions should be reconciled fairly easily. The biggest sticking point could be the number of dispensaries, she said.
“They really wanted six and we kept it four,” Pugh said.
The bill will now head to the full House next week.
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