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."