Eight months after the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened, 1,017 patients have registered with the state to receive the drug, the Department of Public Safety told lawmakers this week.
A fourth dispensary, Southern Vermont Wellness, is slated to open Tuesday in Brattleboro, officials said.It will be located at 1222 Putney Road according to Brattleboro’s Planning Services department. The state’s other three dispensaries are in Burlington, Brandon and Montpelier.
Shayne Lynn, executive director of the Burlington’s Champlain Valley Dispensary, is opening the Brattleboro facility, according to the Brattleboro Reformer.
Lynn said Friday that 30 patients have registered to receive marijuana in Brattleboro when that location opens.
“We felt that southern Vermont needed to have a dispensary of its own, as we had patients from southern Vermont,” he said.
Meanwhile, a bill in the Senate would add two more dispensaries and allow those businesses to offer home delivery of marijuana.
The bill would also eliminate a statewide cap on the number of registered patients who receive marijuana from a dispensary.
Of the 1,017 patients registered with the state, 642 patients have selected dispensaries, said Francis Aumand, director of the criminal justice services division of the Department of Public Safety.
The other 375 patients grow their own, Aumand said.
The bill, S.247, also increases from two to four ounces the amount of marijuana a dispensary can cultivate and possess per patient. That rule applies to dispensaries that serve more than 14 patients.
Public safety officials, marijuana advocates and dispensaries say they compromised on the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, but all support it.
White said marijuana advocates, the dispensaries and DPS pushed for the changes.
“In working with them over the last three years I just decided it was time to make those changes that they needed,” said White, who also sponsored the first dispensary bill.
The Marijuana Policy Project has lobbied heavily in Vermont for more lax laws about marijuana. That group ranked first for the amount of money it donated to lawmakers’ campaigns during the 2011-2012 election cycle. It donated $12,850 total, including $300 to White. The Marijuana Policy Project also gave $10,000 to Gov. Peter Shumlin, according to VTDigger’s online campaign finance database.
Public safety officials agreed to eliminate the patient cap and add two dispensaries in exchange for striking a proposal to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of “debilitating medical conditions” that qualify a person to apply for a registry identification card.
That list now includes cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and other conditions.
There needs to be more research about marijuana’s efficacy in treating PTSD, according to Aumand. “We want to make sure that it grows at a pace that can be regulated,” he said.
Perhaps more significant than PTSD, he said, was a proposal in the bill’s first draft that changed the word “or” to “and” in the following phrase: “if the disease or the treatment results in severe, persistent and intractable symptoms.”
“We’re not prepared to open it up to more patients that further opens up or loosens up the definition (of debilitating medical condition) might lead to,” Aumand said.
Matt Simon, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, said his organization supports the legislation but he is not enthusiastic about the PTSD provision, which he says could prevent the bill from passing.
“We think it’s great that the Department of Public Safety wants to add more dispensaries and is comfortable with that,” Simon said.
Lawmakers have proposed another bill, H.213, that would add PTSD to the list of conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana.
The bill would also ease requirements about who is eligible to receive medical marijuana. The law does not allow someone with a pending charge or conviction of a drug-related crime or violent felony to qualify for a registry card.
The House bill gives the Department of Public Safety the discretion to grant registry cards to people convicted of drug-related crimes or a violent felony if they have been “rehabilitated and should be otherwise eligible.”
In addition, the legislation authorizes the Department of Public Safety to write rules for safe delivery of pot to patients.
Aumand said the rules will be similar to the ones in place that govern transport of marijuana from growing facilities to dispensaries.
Those rules require locked containers and “trip tickets” that list information such as the origin, destination and amount of marijuana transported.
“It’s not going to be a wide-open process, it’s going to be a very tightly controlled and regulated one,” he said.
Dispensaries are allowed to cultivate and possess at any one time up to 28 mature and 98 immature marijuana plants and 28 ounces of usable marijuana.
Aumand said the Department of Public Safety also compromised on a section of the bill about dispensary financial audits.
The bill would change the law to require audits every other year, instead of annually. The annual dispensary registration fee paid to the Department of Public Safety would be $25,000 in audit years. Otherwise the annual registration fee is $30,000 and $20,000 in the first year of operation.
Dispensaries are operated as nonprofits but don’t need to be recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS, the law says. The bill specifies that they are exempt from state income tax.
The bill is before the Senate Finance Committee, according to the Legislature’s online bill tracking system.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:19 a.m. Feb. 15.