Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jun 2011
Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)
Copyright: 2011 Burlington Free Press
Author: Nancy Remsen, Free Press Staff Writer


MONTPELIER -- For Sue Thayer of East Wallingford, a new law that
allows four medical marijuana dispensaries to be set up in Vermont
comes long after she was busted for growing cannabis. She was growing
it to help her ailing son cope with weight loss and poor appetite as
he waited for a new kidney.

Still, she and Max, who has that new kidney now, joined a celebration
Thursday at the Statehouse as Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation
that should prevent anyone else from the cruel choice Sue Thayer said
she faced.

In 2006 and 2007, Sue Thayer, a master gardener, planted a plot of
marijuana in a secluded area of her yard because her younger son found
it allowed him to eat, put some weight on his reed-like frame and have
sufficient energy to attend high school. Max, who suffered from renal
disease since infancy, tried marijuana because Tristam, his older
brother, benefited from it during his losing battle with leukemia.

"It is a magical thing to see," Sue Thayer said of the way marijuana
helped both her sons.

Tristam Thayer had grown his own, his mother said. After he died, Max
used what remained of his brother's supply. His mother said he tried
buying some on the street in Rutland. "Once was enough." She decided
to take her chances and grow her own.

In 2007, before the family could harvest their second crop, police
found the garden in a helicopter flyover, Sue Thayer said. "That was
kind of traumatic."

Because she had more than 25 plants, she was charged with a felony.
She tried to argue she grew the plants out of necessity, but the
Vermont Supreme Court ruled she had another option.

Since 2004, Vermont has allowed individuals with certain chronic and
debilitating conditions to register with the Department of Public
Safety and grow limited quantities of marijuana indoors to ease
symptoms such as nausea and pain.

In 2007, the Legislature expanded the list of conditions and increased
the number of plants a registered patient could possess -- two mature
marijuana plants, seven immature plants, and two ounces of usable marijuana.

Max Thayer wasn't a registered patient when his mother's garden was
found because he hadn't qualified until the list of conditions was
expanded. That was about the time police raided the family's home.
Today, he is one of the 351 people on the state's marijuana registry,
he said.

Sue Thayer hasn't gone to jail. Her case was referred to diversion,
for which she is thankful. Still, she said, growing a supply of
marijuana for her son "was the right thing to do."

Rep. Sandy Haas, P-Rochester, helped move the bill through the
Legislature this year. Thursday she said the law fills a gap that the
Legislature's two previous "cautious" steps had failed to address --
by giving patients a way to legally access quality marijuana at
reasonable prices.

"Not everyone can grow their own marijuana successfully," Haas

Dealing with criminals

Ian Rhein of St. Johnsbury pushed for the legislation because he is a
registered patient and because he's heard so many troubling stories
through the online network he set up.

Leaning on a cane outside the governor's ceremonial office, Rhein said
he uses marijuana to ease chronic pain from the bullet lodged near his
spine. He was shot in 1992 when he tried to break up a domestic
dispute. He said he buys rather than grows his marijuana because he
has young sons living at home.

Buying isn't easy, he said, because it involves dealing with
criminals. "Unless you know people, you can't even get it," he said.
It's also expensive -- "a minimum of $100 for seven grams of medical
grade," he said.

Growing marijuana isn't easy either, Rhein said.

"You have to know what you are doing and you have to have the
finances" to pay for special lights, soil supplements and construction
of a secure space. For many people who would benefit, he said, "the
economics behind it have been a real issue."

"To get this dispensary bill through and get safe access means a lot,"
Rhein said.

Providing pot

Shayne Lynn of Burlington wants to establish a dispensary in
Chittenden County.

He said he envisions a secure growing and processing facility and a
separate dispensary that is handicapped accessible with easy parking.

"I'd start small and provide quality over quantity," he said. He's not
worried about the challenges of growing marijuana. "I grew up on a
farm and there are people I have been talking to."

He foresees growing different types of marijuana and providing
patients with different options -- marijuana that could be smoked,
eaten or a tincture that could be put under the tongue.

Lynn has begun the process of setting up a nonprofit organization and
recruiting people to serve on his board. "I want a board that
represents law enforcement, patients and the community."

He can't finalize his business plan, however, until the Department of
Public Safety issues rules. He said he's hopeful state officials will
move quickly.

Law enforcement officials are just as anxious as Lynn to see the
rules, but for different reasons.

Police didn't support allowing dispensaries, but Lamoille County
Sheriff Roger Marcoux said law enforcement won inclusion of important
restrictions. The total number of patients who may be served by
dispensaries was capped at 1,000, the number of dispensaries was
limited to four and the fees dispensary operators pay are high --
$2,500 to apply, $20,000 for the first year license and $30,000 for
subsequent annual licenses.

"We would rather not see any legalized marijuana," Marcoux said. Now
that dispensaries are legal, he said, their management will be key,
"so criminal enterprises can't get a foothold."

"There is a lot of rule-making ahead and I think the chiefs (of
police) and the sheriffs will have a seat at the table," Marcoux said.
"It is really important to get this right." 
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