Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jun 2011 Source: Burlington Free Press (VT) Copyright: 2011 Burlington Free Press Contact: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/632 Author: Nancy Remsen, Free Press Staff Writer NEW VERMONT LAW GIVES MEDICAL MARIJUANA USERS A LEGAL CHOICE 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 said. 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." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.