Vermont Senate Passes Bill to Expand Medical Marijuana Program, Further Thwart Federal Prohibition in Practice

MONTPELIER, Vt. (Feb. 23, 2017) – A Vermont bill to expand access for patients utilizing the state’s medical marijuana program passed the state Senate last week. If approved, the legislation would help further thwart the deplorable federal prohibition on the same.

Introduced by Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and six co-sponsors, Senate Bill 16 (S.16) would amend laws on the books pertaining to medical marijuana to greatly expand access for qualifying patients. The full Senate approved the measure by a voice vote.

“People in my area are having difficulty getting cannabis,” Sen. Sears said in a Seven Days report. “I’m looking to expand the availability of medical marijuana.”

S.16 would expand the health conditions that qualify for treatment with medicinal cannabis to “post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, [and] Parkinson’s disease” as well as “other disease, condition, or treatment as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s health care professional.” In addition, the legislation would increase the amount of marijuana allowed for qualifying patients from two ounces up to three ounces. It would expand the number of dispensaries allowed in the state from four to eight.

The bill would also allow medical marijuana to be advertised as long as it is “not… located within 1,000 feet of a preexisting public or private school or licensed or regulated child care facility” and the advertisement makes it clear that the products were strictly for individuals aged 21-or-older.

Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as S.16 remain perfectly legal, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Vermont’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While state law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward blocking in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, Vermont essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Vermont is among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states last November. More than 2-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. With half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically blocking the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

This proposal to expand the state’s medical marijuana law also demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. Once the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These four bills to expand medical marijuana in New Hampshire represent another step forward for patients seeking alternative treatments and a further erosion of federal marijuana prohibition.

WHAT’S NEXT?

S.16 will now move to the House for further consideration.