Sears: Allow sick to grow more pot

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Friday, January 12
BENNINGTON — A Manchester resident testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday in support of a new medical marijuana bill.

Local man testifies

Mark Tucci, 49, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, told the committee the state should revise a law passed in 2004 to allow approved patients to grow more marijuana for medical use. Tucci's testimony Thursday was in support of S.07, a bill proposed by Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, last month.

"A lot of people have asked me why I've introduced this bill, and Mark is the reason. ... That's the way legislation works in Vermont because we're a small state and you really do hear from your constituents," said Sears.

The bill seeks to raise the amount of marijuana a registered patient can possess to six mature plants, 18 immature plants and four ounces of usable marijuana. Current law allows for one mature plant, two immature plants and two ounces of usable marijuana. In addition, the registration fee for patients would be reduced from $100 to $50.

Sears' bill also expands the number of conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana. In addition to ailments such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, the bill would allow for patients with glaucoma, cachexia, wasting syndrome and severe pain, nausea or seizures.

Vermont, one of 11 states that allow medical marijuana use, currently has 33 registered patients.

Tucci said when Vermont became the 10th state to pass a medical marijuana law in 2004, it essentially became a clinical trial for those three diseases. He believes the law has been beneficial and was a good starting point.

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"Overall ... the program works. A very small group of the sickest Vermonters with AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis now have a very important tool to help them where nothing else seemed to or where the side effects from the real drugs were too debilitating to handle," he said.

However, it is time the state expand the law to allow patients to grow more, said Tucci. He said the plants he is allowed to grow often die or do not yield a sufficient amount of marijuana, causing Tucci to spend $400 to $500 dollars of his $850 monthly disability check purchasing marijuana on the black market.

"I smoke roughly two ounces a month. At present, I can grow about two ounces in a three to four-month period. That means two thirds of my meds have to be bought on the black market. ... The unknown strain and unknown growing conditions pretty much guarantee that the quality won't be the same," Tucci told the committee.

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By purchasing marijuana on the street, Tucci said he is unintentionally encouraging recreational use of the drug. He said Sears' law could change that.

"By going out into the black market, I'm breaking the laws that our officers are sworn to uphold. ... The way to end all this is to let me grow enough medicine."

Tucci's testimony details the need for the bill, said Sears.

"Mark makes such a great case. He has to go out and pay ... for good marijuana that will do the same thing as what he grows," said Sears.

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Law enforcement officials and the state's attorneys association will likely oppose changes to the current law, said Sears.

"They feel it's working fine. Basically, the opposition from law enforcement and other groups is, number one, the amounts; and number two, what diseases should be covered under the law," he said.

Tucci said the reasoning behind the opposition no longer makes sense.

"My big question with that is, 'why?' The concerns they have now are the same concerns they had two years ago. The sky didn't fall," he said.

Tucci said he has spoken with his two sons about his use of medical marijuana, and they are able to understand the difference between medication and recreational use.

"It's pretty cut and dry. ... to them, it's no real excitement. It's not a drug, it's a medicine."

Sears said he hopes to have the bill through the Judicial Committee within a week. The bill must then pass through the Heath and Welfare Committee before it reaches the Senate floor.


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