|Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Directory|
The Vermont Legislature is expected this week to consider a bill that would legalize medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
Cannabis has been legal for medicinal purposes in Vermont since 2004, for those with qualifying illnesses, including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis and who sign up for the state’s registry. The law allows patients to grow their own marijuana, but advocates say many of the seriously ill individuals find that a daunting task, leaving them with the prospect of buying black market pot on the street.
The state’s medical marijuana registry specifies, “The Marijuana Registry is neither a source for marijuana nor can the Registry provide information to patients on how to obtain marijuana,” reports Terri Hallenbeck at the Burlington Free Press.
The answer, according to advocates, is to legalize a small number of medical marijuana dispensaries, nonprofit businesses that would grow cannabis and sell it to patients on the registry.
|Photo: Seven Days|
|Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham): “They have a right to have this symptom-relief medication”|
”They have a right to have this symptom-relief medication, yet we’ve given them no ability to get it in a legal manner in which the product is safe,” said Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee that passed the bill the full Senate will consider this week.
The bill has the support of Gov. Peter Shumlin. But of course, even with a series of restrictions designed to avoid supposed “problems” in other states, it has quickly attracted critics who claim to be worried that the dispensaries will become “drug havens” and that the medical marijuana registry will become flooded with people looking for a legal way to smoke pot.
“A number of other states have had problems with abuse of registry and crime surrounding the dispensaries,” claimed Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), who voted against the bill when the Senate Finance Committee considered it last week. As anti-pot conservatives tend to do, Brock noted that marijuana, even for medical use, remains illegal under federal law.
Vermont has the smallest medical marijuana program in the U.S., according to the Marijuana Policy Project. There are only 344 cannabis patients on the state’s registry. Each of them has to pay $50 a year and must provide proof from a medical professional of a qualifying condition. Half of those on the registry are older than 50, and one-quarter have cancer, according to Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, who supports the measure.
Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), the lead sponsor of the Senate dispensary bill, said the legislation includes restrictions that would make Vermont’s situation different from places like California, where dispensaries have proliferated.
“We’ve been taking baby steps in Vermont,” Sears said. “One of the benefits of baby steps is we’ve avoided the problems of other states.”
The Vermont bill would require patients to have an appointment at the dispensary in order to buy marijuana.
|Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn: “With this, we want to put it in the hands of people who need it medically”|
The bill limits the number of dispensaries in Vermont, currently calling for only two, but on Flynn’s recommendation senators plan to change it to four. That would bring in more revenue from fees, and make it more economical to monitor the sites, according to Flynn.
The legislation only allows those on the medical marijuana registry to become clients, paying the state a $50 fee to join. The bill would also limit the number of clients allowed to register with a dispensary.
Dispensaries would be allowed to grow up to 28 mature marijuana plants, and possess 28 ounces of usable marijuana. They could not be located with 1,000 feet of a school or daycare, and would be required to have security and limited access to the marijuana supply. The shops would be subject to state inspection and auditing.
They would not be allowed to employ anyone convicted of “drug-related offenses,” and there would be limits on the amount of marijuana they could sell to each client. Prospective dispensary operators would have to pay $2,500 to apply for a license, and a $32,000 fee if they are approved by the state.
Flynn, a former prosecutor who became state public safety commissioner in January, said restrictions on the number of dispensaries, the number of clients and the set-up of the operations are key to his support. His department would participate in fine-tuning the rules if the bill passes.
“It’s a very defined set-up,” Flynn said. “There has to be an appointment made. I’m never going to stand out there and say we want to put marijuana in the hands of people on the streets. With this, we want to put it in the hands of people who need it medically.”
Flynn said it’s also important to make sure the dispensaries don’t drain his department’s budget. He asked for an increase in the originally proposed fees so that the revenue would cover the two positions he thinks he’ll need to handle registration and monitoring of the shops.
Lawmakers wondered if the $32,000 licensing fee was too high, but decided it could be changed later.
Local communities may have restrictions of their own, including banning dispensaries, according to Flynn, who expressed relief that if the dispensary bill does pass this year, he won’t also have to handle implementing marijuana decriminalization, which is not expected to pass this year.
Brock, who is among lawmakers opposing the dispensary bill, still won’t even admit marijuana has medical value, despite the fact that it’s been legal for exactly that use in Vermont for seven years now. “I think the jury’s still out on that,” he said, ignoring the mountains of medical evidence.
Len Goodman, executive director of the largest dispensary in New Mexico, said he has had no problems with crime at his location in a strip mall near a yoga studio, a contractor, a fitness center, a real estate office and a tattoo parlor.
Occasionally, someone comes trying to buy marijuana without a registraiton card, he said, but they are turned away.
“A lot of people were initially concerned about violence and a potential crime increase,” Goodman said. “We just haven’t experienced any of it.”