MONTPELIER -- House lawmakers are not convinced post-traumatic stress disorder should qualify a person to receive medical marijuana and are advocating for more research before they include that condition in a bill poised for a committee vote.
The House Human Services Committee is reworking a Senate bill that updates laws for pot dispensaries. There are 1,061 registered medical marijuana patients in Vermont, 705 of whom use the state's four dispensaries.
Among potential changes in the bill, S.247, is a provision to include PTSD as a "debilitating medical condition" that qualifies a person to apply for permission to buy medical marijuana.
That provision of the original version of the bill was removed by the Senate.
"We decided that this was really a technical bill and it was making needed improvements to the system that already exists instead of expanding the system," said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, the bill's sponsor and chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which took testimony and amended it.
The House version adds back the PTSD language, but only for the most serious cases.
Members of the House Human Services Committee on Tuesday made it clear they do not unanimously support including PTSD as a qualifying condition.
"I think we should go slow. To me we don't have enough information yet," said Rep. Tom Burditt, R-West Rutland. But he said he could support the current language, which only allows it for PTSD as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
Burditt on Tuesday morning during committee discussion called for a poll of all committee members about PTSD before the group votes on the whole bill. The committee is also waiting to hear from a final witness, Tom Simpatico, the chief medical officer of the Department of Vermont Health Access.
Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, said it is a difficult decision.
"Certainly it's a very real affliction for a lot of people," he said. "The lack of science around this hurts the case, though."
Mrowicki said he would like to see more clinical trials about the effectiveness of marijuana in treating PTSD symptoms. In the meantime, he said he might support using it for PTSD in a limited way.
"The reality is, even for a lot of drugs that have gone through clinical studies, how long they help is sometimes very limited," Mrowicki said.
Rep. Francis "Topper" McFaun, R-Barre Town, also said he would like to see a study of marijuana's effectiveness in helping PTSD victims.
Rep. Anne Donohue, R-Northfield was not at the committee meeting Tuesday morning but later said she is concerned about allowing PTSD in general because of the lack of research about medical marijuana. But she said she is OK with the language in the bill because it is only for serious cases of PTSD.
"We tend to look at benefits of things and not necessarily negative side effects," Donahue said.
The House bill also expands the definition of "health care professional" to include some naturopaths.
The bill would also allow dispensaries to acquire, cultivate and sell hemp for symptom relief. The committee learned through testimony that a certain strain of hemp is effective in treating some children who suffer from frequent seizures.
Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, said it is unclear when the committee will take the bill up again.