Pubdate: Mon, 04 Apr 2011
Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)
Copyright: 2011 Burlington Free Press
Author: Terri Hallenbeck
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


MONTPELIER -- Here's what Shayne Lynn envisions somewhere in 
Chittenden County: an office as non-descript as a doctor's office or 
a pharmacy from which he would sell marijuana to those with 
qualifying medical conditions.

There'd be a waiting room. Clients would be seen by appointment only. 
There'd be security. He might also offer clients yoga, acupuncture 
and Reiki. He'd probably grow the marijuana somewhere else, at an 
indoor facility.

Lynn could become one of the first people to run such an operation in 
Vermont if proposed legislation the Senate is expected to consider 
this week passes.

Lynn, a 40-year-old professional photographer who lives in 
Burlington, said he believes in marijuana's medicinal value for those 
who suffer from chronic pain and he thinks it's wrong that such 
people have nowhere legal to buy the relief.

"People having to go out and buy it on a corner from someone -- it's 
not right," Lynn said. "I see this as an opportunity to run a 
successful, local, nonprofit business which would provide medical 
respectability to the current and future patients on the registry. It 
would open a more honest, serious dialogue about the benefits of cannabis."

Medical marijuana has been legal in Vermont since 2004, for those 
with qualifying illnesses -- including cancer, AIDS and multiple 
sclerosis -- who sign up for the state's registry. The 2004 law 
allows patients to grow their own marijuana, but advocates say many 
find that a daunting task, leaving them with the prospect of making 
illegal deals for street dope.

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."

The answer, advocates say, is to legalize a small number of medical 
marijuana dispensaries -- nonprofit operations that would grow 
marijuana and sell it to those on the medical marijuana registry.

"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, chairwoman of 
the Senate Government Operations Committee that passed the bill the 
Senate will consider this week.

The bill has the backing of Gov. Peter Shumlin. With a series of 
restrictions added that are designed to avoid problems seen in other 
states, it also has the support of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn.

Some worry, however, that the dispensaries will become drug havens 
and the medical marijuana registry will quickly be flooded with those 
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," said Sen. Randy Brock, 
R-Franklin, who voted against the bill when the Senate Finance 
Committee considered it last week. He noted that marijuana, even for 
medical use, remains illegal under federal law.

Avoiding pitfalls

Vermont has 344 people on its medical marijuana registry, each of 
whom pays $50 a year and must provide proof from a medical 
professional of a qualifying condition. Half of those on the registry 
are over age 50 and one-quarter have cancer, Flynn said.

According to the national Medical Marijuana Project, Vermont has the 
smallest medical marijuana program in the country.

One of those on the registry is Mark Tucci, a Manchester man with 
multiple sclerosis who was involved in creating the state medical 
marijuana law. He said he uses marijuana to quell side effects of his 
multiple sclerosis, including vertigo, and has found it very effective.

Tucci said he grows his own marijuana but a few times a year could 
use some help. He has been active in working on legislation to allow 

He has traveled to California and New Mexico to see how dispensaries 
worked -- or didn't work -- there.

"I saw all kinds -- low-budget dispensaries that looked like crack 
houses all the way up to ones with rooms where you can take 
treatment," he said.

In most places, he said, the dispensaries blended into the landscape. 
"It was treated like you and I standing in a Rite Aid," he said.

In California, dispensaries proliferated. Opponents say some of the 
dispensaries there are a front for legalizing marijuana, with few 
rules about who qualifies. Supporters say that's because the state 
left it up to local municipalities to regulation the dispensaries. 
Seven states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana 
dispensaries, with varying rules in each state.

Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, the lead sponsor of the Senate 
bill, said the legislation is stacked with restrictions that will 
make Vermont's situation different. "We've been taking baby steps in 
Vermont. One of the benefits of baby steps is we've avoided the 
problems of other states," he said.

One thing Tucci said he learned was that Vermont should not have 
storefront dispensaries, where clients walk in to buy their 
marijuana. Those generate more concerns about crime and abuse of the 
registries. Thus, the Vermont bill would require clients to have an 

The Senate bill limits the number of dispensaries in Vermont -- the 
bill currently calls for two but on Flynn's recommendation senators 
plan to change it to four (Flynn said budget-wise that would bring in 
more revenue from fees and make it more economical to monitor the 
sites). The legislation allows only those on the medical marijuana 
registry to become clients, paying the state a $50 fee to join. The 
bill would limit the number of clients that may register with a dispensary.

The dispensaries would be allowed to cultivate up to 28 mature 
marijuana plant at a time and 28 ounces of usable marijuana. They may 
not be located within 1,000 feet of a school or day care, must have 
security and limited access to the marijuana supply. The dispensaries 
are subject to state inspection and auditing.

They would not be allowed to have anyone convicted of drug-related 
offenses working there. There would be limits on the amount of 
marijuana they could sell to a client. Would-be operators of a 
dispensary would have to pay a $2,500 fee to apply and a $32,000 fee 
for a license if approved by the state.

For Flynn, a former prosecutor who became state public safety 
commissioner in January, 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 have a role in fine-tuning the rules if 
the bill passes.

"It's a very defined set-up. There has to be an appointment made," he 
said. "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."

Fynn said it's also important to him to make sure the dispensaries 
don't drain his department's budget. He asked for an increase in the 
originally proposed fees so that they cover the two positions he 
thinks he'll need to handle registration and monitoring of the 
dispensaries. Lawmakers wondered if the $32,000 licensing fee was too 
high but decided it could be changed later.

Flynn noted that local communities may have restrictions of their 
own, including banning dispensaries. Still, Flynn expressed relief 
that it if the dispensary bill passes this year he won't 
simultaneously have to handle implementing marijuana 
decriminalization, which is not expected to pass this year.

Brock, who is among lawmakers opposed to the bill, said he not only 
worries about problems that the dispensaries will create, he remains 
dubious of marijuana's medical value. "I think the jury's still out 
on that," he said.

Running a dispensary

Lynn, a professional photographer who lives in Burlington, has been 
following efforts in recent years to legalize dispensaries. With an 
interest in alternative medications, he is among those interested in 
establishing one in the greater Burlington area.

He concedes there are a lot of unknowns, given that no one's ever 
done it here. He understands it's an unusual enterprise, growing and 
selling something that's illegal except to a small market. Figuring 
out the financing will be a challenge, he noted, because banks aren't 
going to lend money for the enterprise.

Len Goodman, executive director of the largest dispensary in New 
Mexico, said he had no experience growing or selling marijuana before 
he started his operation in Santa Fe in 2009.

He operates an indoor growing facility that's separate from the 
office where marijuana is distributed. The distribution office sits 
in a strip mall near a yoga studio, a contractor, a fitness center, a 
real estate office and a tattoo parlor. The sign on the door says 
NMNM, the initials for New MexiCann Natural Medicine Inc., he said, 
but the neighboring businesses all know it's a medical marijuana dispensary.

There are security cameras and alarms, but no guards, he said. 
Occasionally, someone comes looking to buy marijuana without a 
registration card, Goodman said. They are turned away and he has had 
no problems with crime, he said.

"A lot of people were initially concerned about violence and a 
potential crime increase," Goodman said. "We just haven't experienced 
any of it."

Customers arrange their order by phone or mail and come to the office 
to pick it up, he said. Goodman said he harvests marijuana every two 
weeks and it sells out immediately. Unlike in some states, his 
dispensary can only sell what it grows itself. Goodman also sells 
edible marijuana products, including fudge, lattes and truffles.

"It's like a corner drugstore," he said, except the customers have to 
belong to the club.


Medical marijuana in Vermont

REGISTRY: For information on Vermont's medical marijuana registry:

DISPENSARIES: Proposed legislation the Senate is expected to consider 
this week would allow a limited number of dispensaries in Vermont to 
sell marijuana to those on the registry. To view the bill, S. 17, 
visit and 
search for "marijuana."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom