updated 5/20/2004 3:53:09 PM ET 2004-05-20T19:53:09

Vermont will become the ninth state to let very sick patients use marijuana to alleviate pain, nausea and other symptoms without fear of state prosecution.

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Gov. James Douglas will let the bill become law without his signature. “I will not oppose this decision by the elected representatives of the people, nor will I support it by signing it into law,” Douglas said Wednesday.

Douglas said the bill covers “symptom relief for a small percentage of individuals with only the most debilitating conditions,” like cancer and AIDS.

Patients may keep up to three marijuana plants in a locked room accessible only by the sick person and caregiver, who both must register with state police.

Opponents complained that the law would put Vermont at odds with federal law, which forbids marijuana use, and that it would send a mixed message about drug use to Vermont’s young people.

Douglas, a first-term Republican, repeatedly had voiced both arguments while the bill was pending, and he said he hoped advocates for legalization of marijuana for recreational use would not take cheer from the new Vermont law.

“To ease suffering is commendable, but to crusade for legalization of an addictive, destructive and dangerous drug is contemptible,” he said.

Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state already have laws allowing marijuana for medical needs. Arizona passed an initiative to allow marijuana by prescription, a largely symbolic law because federal law prohibits doctors from writing such prescriptions.

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