Vermont legislature approves marijuana legalization bill


BOSTON, May 10 (Reuters) - Vermont lawmakers on Wednesday approved a measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana, which if not vetoed by the governor would make the state the ninth to legalize the drug and the first to do so by legislation rather than ballot initiative.

The U.S. state's House of Representatives voted 79-66 for the measure, which was attached to a bill increasing penalties for the possession and sale of the opioid drug fentanyl. The measure, which would take effect in July 2018 and allow adults 21 and over to buy and use the drug, was passed by the state Senate last week in a 20-9 vote.

RELATED: Health benefits of marijuana

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Health benefits of marijuana

1. Parkinson's 

Cannabis has been found to help slow tremors and pain in Parkinson's patients. According to Medical News Today, the compounds in marijuana help to "reduce the effects of reduced dopamine in the brain". 

A study conducted by Israeli scientists found smoking marijuana helped reduce these tremors. "We not only saw improvement in tremor in these patients, but also in rigidity and in bradykinesia," said researcher Ruth Djaldetti.

Furthermore, marijuana has been found to slow the progression of Parkinson's because of its antioxidant qualities. 

2. Glaucoma 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology describes glaucoma as a condition in which the optic nerve is damaged over long periods of time. It can limit vision and sometimes lead to blindness. 

The link between glaucoma and marijuana has been studied since the 1970s, as smoking marijuana has been found to lower eye pressure. Doctors are working on ways to elongate the effects of marijuana. 

It has been speculated that smoking the drug can slow the progression of the disease. 

3. Chemo patients

There has been extensive research on the benefits of cannabis and chemotherapy patients. The "wonder drug", as it is hailed, does miracles for cancer patients. 

According to Dr. Donald Abrams, marijuana "is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite.”

The American Cancer Society claims that the drug can also lower pain, reduce inflammation and calm anxieties of not just chemo patients, but patients suffering from a chronic illness or disease. 

Scientists have found that cannabinoids, one of the many chemical compounds found in the plant, can inhibit tumor growth. It was particularly effective in the inhibition of colon cancer. 

4. Alzheimer's

According to an article published by CNN Health, marijuana may be beneficial for Alzheimer's patients. It was found that THC, an ingredient in cannabis, blocks inflammation in the brain and "stimulates the removal of toxic plaque". 

Marijuana has also been used to help dementia patients. Author and doctor David Casarett told CNN, "I spoke to many family members of people with mild or moderate dementia who believed that THC or whole-plant marijuana was effective in alleviating the confusion and agitation that sometimes occurs."

5. Skin Diseases 

It is widely known that marijuana possesses antiinflammatory benefits, helpful to patients who suffer from arthritis and cancer, amongst many others.

A study published by the University of Colorado found that using the drug topically can alleviate pain and "may be effective against eczema, psoriasis, atopic and contact dermatitis. More and more dermatologists are encouraging the use of cannabinoid cream. 

6. Stroke victims 

Cannabis and stroke victims is an interesting topic of study for many researchers, some of whom contend the drug can "shrink" the damaged area of the brain. 

Doctors, who tested the drug on mice, rats and monkeys, believe the chemical "shows promise as a neuroprotective treatment for stroke”, according to the Huffington Post.

7. PTSD

Advocates have argued that marijuana can provide immense relief for patients, specifically veterans, who suffer from PTSD. In states like New Mexico, "medical marijuana is legally prescribed for PTSD". 

A study conducted by the University of Haifa fond that marijuana helped block the "development" and progression of PTSD in rats. But, researchers explain, that there is a critical window of what marijuana can do. 

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A spokeswoman for Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, said he would need to consider the details of the legislation before deciding whether to sign, veto or let it pass into law without his signature.

"On the issue of legalizing marijuana, the Governor has said he is not philosophically opposed, but we must ensure certain public safety and health questions are answered," Scott spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley said in an e-mail.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group that had backed the measure for multiple years, applauded the vote,"Vermont lawmakers made history today," said Matt Simon, the group's New England political director. "It's time for Vermont to move forward with a more sensible marijuana policy."

Opponents blasted passage of the measure and urged Scott to veto it.

"This is about opening the doors to a new addictive industry being funded by Big Tobacco that will install retail pot shops in Vermont neighborhoods," said Kevin Sabel, president of anti-pot group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. "We will continue to give a voice to parents, and public health and safety experts to encourage Governor Scott to choose people over profit and veto this harmful legislation."

RELATED: Marijuana laws by state

51 PHOTOS
Marijuana legalization laws by state
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Marijuana legalization laws by state

Alabama: Medical use only, otherwise possession is a felony

(Photo: Dennis Macdonald via Getty Images)

Alaska: Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use 

(Photo: Zoonar/N.Okhitin via Getty Images)

Arizona: Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Mikel Ortega via Getty Images)

Arkansas: Medical use only

(Photo: Getty Images)

California: Legal for medical and recreational use

(Getty)

Colorado: Legal for medical and recreational use  

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Connecticut: Decriminalized and legalized for medical use 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Delaware: Decriminalized

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Florida: Medical use only

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Georgia: Medical use only

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Hawaii: Medical use only

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Idaho: Not legal

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Illinois: Decriminalized

(Photo: VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm)

Indiana: Not legal

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Iowa: Medical use only

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Kansas: Not legal

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Kentucky: Not legal

(Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images)

Louisiana: Medical use only

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Maine: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Maryland: Decriminalized

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Massachusetts: Legal

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Michigan: Medical use only

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Minnesota: Decriminalized

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mississippi: Decriminalized on first offense

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Missouri: Not legal

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Montana: Medical use only

(Photo: Dennis Macdonald via Getty Images)

Nebraska: Decriminalized on first offense only

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Nevada: Legal

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New Hampshire: Medical use only

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New Jersey: Medical use only

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New Mexico: Medical use only

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New York: Decriminalized unless in public view

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

North Carolina: Decriminalized

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North Dakota: Medical use only

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Ohio: Decriminalized

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Oklahoma: Medical use only

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Oregon: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Pennsylvania: Medical use only

(Photo: Henryk Sadura via Getty Images)

Rhode Island: Decriminalized

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South Carolina: Not legal

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South Dakota: Not legal

(Photo: Dave and Les Jacobs via Getty Images)

Tennessee: Medical use only

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Texas: Medical use only, decriminalized in Houston and Dallas

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Utah: Not legal 

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Vermont: Decriminalized

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Virginia: Not legal

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Washington: Legal for medical and recreational use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

West Virginia: Medical use only

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wisconsin: Medical use only

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wyoming: Not legal 

(Photo: Space Images via Getty Images)

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Neighboring Massachusetts and nearby Maine have also legalized the drug, doing so after statewide ballot initiatives showed that a majority of voters approved the idea. That was not an option in Vermont, where state law does not allow for ballot measures of that kind.

Lawmakers in nearby Rhode Island are contemplating a similar measure.

Approval of the legislation comes at a time that many public health advocates are focusing on the problems caused by rising rates of addition to opioid painkillers including heroin and fentanyl, which has been blamed for soaring numbers of overdose deaths.

Democrats control both houses of the Vermont legislature.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in February that federal anti-marijuana laws might be ramped up. (Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Alistair Bell)

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