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Advocates and regulators are pushing to reform medical cannabis in order to save it

Cannabis buds offered for purchase are displayed at Ceres Collaborative Dispensary in Burlington on the first day of legal retail cannabis sales on Oct. 1. The Cannabis Control Board wants to lower the start-up fee for a medical dispensary, which is currently $25,000, compared to $10,000 for an adult recreational retail store. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
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The opening of Vermont’s adult recreational cannabis market last October prompted the state’s Cannabis Control Board and others to propose reforming the medical cannabis program.

Vermont has allowed patients and caregivers to possess and grow cannabis ever since 2004. The first medical cannabis dispensaries obtained licenses in 2012. There are now five medical dispensaries.

Since the state legalized personal cannabis possession in 2018, it has seen a significant drop in the number of patients with medical cannabis cards, from 5,662 in June of that year to 3,745 this month, according to the Cannabis Control Council.

With the adult entertainment market opening up, according to Chairman James Pepper, it’s time to revisit the medical program to make sure it’s still viable.

“We definitely think it’s necessary,” Pepper said, referring to benefits the medical cannabis program offers patients that are not available on the regulated adult market.

According to Pepper, the Cannabis Control Board would like the legislature to increase the number of medical conditions that qualify people to use medical cannabis and remove the requirement to undergo post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, for counseling while they use cannabis.

said Amelia Grace, co-founder of L.L.C Green Mountain Patients Alliance, which calls for reforms to the medical cannabis system. Grace, who lives in Berlin, said she has PTSD.

“Talk therapy doesn’t always work for everyone,” said Jesselyn Dolan, co-founder of the Green Mountain Patients Alliance and founder of the Vermont Cannabis Nurses Association. She specializes in opioid use disorder and mental health comorbidities.

Dolan and Grace have found an ally in Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, P/D-Essex, who is set to join the Senate this week and work on legislation to reform medical cannabis.

said Vyhovsky, who is also a social worker. “If, in the meantime, cannabis helps alleviate flashbacks and debilitating symptoms, for me it’s about harm reduction.”

Pepper also supports increasing the number of plants patients are allowed to grow from two mature plants and seven immature plants to six mature plants and 12 immature plants and allowing caregivers to have two patients.

Currently, caregivers can only grow cannabis for one patient.

“There are some really good caregivers out there, but they are limited in who they can serve,” Pepper said.

He said he would also like the legislature to repeal the requirement that patients with incurable conditions such as HIV, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis receive a letter from their doctor each year certifying the fact that they still have an incurable condition.

“Nothing ever is going to rewrite my DNA,” said Grace, who said she did. Ehlers-Danlos SyndromeIt is a rare genetic condition that affects connective tissue. “I will never have it.”

Grace said she did, too Crohn’s disease. She said she uses cannabis to treat both conditions, as well as mental health conditions. She said a caregiver grows cannabis for her in her home, and sometimes a grower donates cannabis to her.

The Cannabis Control Commission would also like to lower the start-up fee for a medical dispensary, which is currently $25,000, compared to $10,000 for an adult recreational retail store.

Bieber would also like to see the legislature allow third party testing for medical cannabis. Currently, medical dispensaries are testing their own cannabis.

According to Pepper, there are benefits to using dispensaries. Patients can receive cannabis in their homes. There is no cap on the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in hard cannabis concentrates in the medical market, unlike in the adult recreational market. Medical clinics offer a reservation system.

“You can be the only person there at any time,” Bieber said. The stigma of cannabis use persists.

Finally, medical cannabis is not taxed, while cannabis for adult recreational purposes is taxed at 20%.

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