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  1. Alfa
    MEDICAL MARIJUANA LOBBY SPENDS AT RECORD PACE IN VT.

    MONTPELIER - A Washington, D.C., lobbying organization that played a
    major role in Vermont becoming the ninth state to adopt a medical
    marijuana law appears to be on a record-setting spending spree.

    The Medical Marijuana Policy Project on Monday declared that it spent
    nearly $218,000 during the first half of 2004. That amount approaches
    the highest known complete-year spending total in Vermont lobbying
    history.

    Lobbyists for the Policy Project were constant visitors to the Vermont
    State House this past winter.

    Their efforts bore fruit in May when the Legislature legalized the use
    and possession of marijuana by people suffering from AIDS, cancer and
    multiple sclerosis.

    Gov. James Douglas opposes the medical use of marijuana, but allowed
    the initiative to become law without his signature.

    The Policy Project, which has a $7 million 2004 lobbying war chest,
    spent money locally on a combination full-court press with lawmakers
    and a statewide media campaign to educate voters. It receives money
    from its 15,000 members nationwide and from others sources.

    "We understand it was a significant amount of money, but it was worth
    it" said Nancy Lynch, spokeswoman for the Policy Project's Vermont
    office. The local law "is landmark legislation. Vermont's is only the
    second Legislature in the country to pass a medical marijuana bill."

    Although nine states have laws that decriminalize marijuana for
    medical purposes, seven were adopted because of voter initiatives.
    Vermont and Hawaii are the only two states where lawmakers drove the
    process.

    The Policy Project has now spent $426,349 lobbying in Vermont since
    2002. Lobbying organizations annually spend more than $5 million in
    Vermont.

    Lobbying groups by law must file spending information with the Vermont
    secretary of state three times each year.

    The Policy Project spent $77,970 during January and February, and
    another $139,722 between March and June of this year.The $217,692
    total is about $7,000 shy of the $224,588 spent in all of 2003 by the
    Vermont Hospital and Health System Association, which is believed to
    be the largest single-year lobbying total on record at the Secretary
    of State's office.

    The state, however, only publishes records dating back to 2000. A
    spokesperson for the Secr
    etary of State said it is possible that an
    organization spent more, but that could not be known unless someone
    manually went through back paper records. No one who works in the
    office is aware of a higher total, she said.

    Lynch said the Policy Project's state operation will continue even
    though Vermont has now passed a medical marijuana law. The
    organization now will focus on making sure the new law, which takes
    effect in November, is implemented properly.

    How much that will cost and add to the group's 2004 local spending
    total is unknown, she said.

    "We do have very deep pockets," Lynch said. "We are very committed to
    Vermont, so we will spend what it takes to be successful here."

    Vermont can also expect future lobbying efforts to expand medical
    marijuana use beyond the three diseases now sanctioned by Vermont law,
    Lynch said. The group would also like people suffering from Lou
    Gehrig's Disease, epilepsy and severe chronic pain to be able to
    legally use marijuana, she said. Maria Thompson, chairwoman of Common
    Cause Vermont, a lobbying watchdog group, said she was surprised to
    learn what the Policy Project spent in just six months.

    "That is an awful lot of money," Thompson said. "It's too bad that our
    system requires people to raise such sums of money. ... The whole
    thing is completely out of hand. This is a good example of why we need
    public financing of campaigns because there is not much difference
    between campaign contributions and lobbying contributions. They go
    hand in hand."

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