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March 14, 2011

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill Headed for Full Senate Vote This Week

Pot Leaf The Vermont Senate is poised to "just say yes" to medical marijuana dispensaries.

That's the word from state Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), one of three cosponsors of a bill (S.17) that would establish two nonprofit centers where patients on Vermont's medical registry could get safe, reliable — and super dank — cannabis.

White tells Seven Days the bill is set for a Senate vote this week (as early as Tuesday, as late as Friday) and has more than enough votes for passage. At last count, White says she had a bipartisan group of 19 or 20 senators (out of 30) in the yes camp. The measure won unanimous approval in the Senate Government Operations Committee, which White chairs, on March 11.

Vermont's 6-year-old medical marijuana law allows patients suffering from debilitating, often terminal, medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS and cancer to grow marijuana plants or have a caregiver grow it for them. But for patients unable to grow, there's no legal place to obtain it, forcing many of the 292 patients on the registry to find it on the black market — often for much higher prices than they'd pay at a dispensary.

The marijuana dispensary bill was passed in committee last year but was abandoned before a floor vote because the votes — particularly Republican votes — weren't there, White says. One of the cosponsors of last year's bill was Peter Shumlin, then the Senate president and now the governor.

Before reaching the Senate floor, the bill may have to go through the Finance Committee for a "quick review," White says, to approve fees that would be charged to nonprofits applying to run the dispensaries, and to employees and board members of the nonprofits.

The legislation would authorize two nonprofit providers, overseen by the state Department of Public Safety, to grow and dispense medical marijuana for up to 500 patients in two locations in Vermont — one in the northern half of the state, one in the south. That limit was written into the bill to make it more "sellable" to holdouts, White says.

Under the bill, each dispensary could cultivate and possess up to 55 immature plants, 35 mature plants and 80 ounces of usable marijuana at any one time. Prices would be set by the nonprofits, but White guesses medical pot would sell for around $200 an ounce — half the street value — and a sliding scale would compensate for a patient's ability to pay.

The dispensing would be done by appointment only — no walk-ins — and the nonprofits would be subject to yearly financial audits by the state.

The Vermont dispensaries are modeled on those in San Francisco and New Mexico, White says, which have faced relatively fewer complications than what she calls the "mess" plaguing dispensaries in southern California.

"It's not going to have Hell's Angels guys racing around shooting up dispensaries and stuff," White says, "which is what some people are trying to portray."

White wasn't sure what House committee would take the up bill — or whether House leadership would fast-track the legislation.

Two dispensaries? How exactly would someone with MS for example be able to TRAVEL to one of these remote locations and obtain the pot? Would people be able to pick it up for them? How would that be verified? I'm all for medical marijuana but this doesn't seem like a very thorough plan. A significant portion of these people can NOT drive on their own, some are house ridden. I don't think others should be allowed to pick it up for them, as it provides to much opportunity for abuse. Seems better to dispense through a pharmacy no?

The bill would allow dispensary employees to deliver the cannabis to patients, using proper security precautions (of course.) Also, a patient's registered caregiver could obtain and deliver the pot for the patient.

Looks like Uncle Sam may not care about what individual states decide

"Yesterday the Drug Enforcement Administration raided about 10 medical marijuana operations in Montana, including four dispensaries run by Montana Cannabis and the greenhouse that supplies them. According to Reuters, "The raids marked the first such crackdown in Montana by the federal government since a state ballot measure legalizing cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical purposes was overwhelmingly approved by voters there in 2004."

I'm so glad this is happening, but if the Feds can come in anytime and take it out, that is a problem. We need national legalization, once and for all.

Marna, it's also why a state marijuana decriminlization law is irrlevant

Actually decriminalization on the state level would save a lot of money prosecuting and incarcerating people for possession of marijuana.

The feds can waste time and money on it. At least the pot laws won't be a drain on our state budget.

Marijuana decriminalization Does NOT Equal Medical Access

It has been over six years since Vermonters legally granted medical use of marijuana to a small group of severely disabled individuals, and ONLY with a physician’s recommendation. These patients have come forth and qualified to be listed on the state marijuana program registry, under the regulation of Vermont Law Enforcement.

A marijuana decriminalization bill currently in the house provides lower penalties for possession of small amounts, but does NOTHING to help severely and chronically ill Vermonters gain safe access to this potentially life saving natural medicine. The house bill strictly affects recreational users in the case of an arrest for possession of small quantities.

Senate Bill S.17 creates two tightly regulated dispensaries, accessible only by registered patients, employees and law enforcement. No advertising will be allowed, patients on the state marijuana registry will have safe and affordable access to a quality tested product, and jobs and tax revenue would be created as a result.

The senate bill would create new jobs, new tax revenues, and fulfill the promise made over six years ago to allow sick and dying Vermonters reliable access to one of the safest therapeutic substances known to the medical community.

Please support Senate Bill S.17 to allow medically qualified Vermonters safe and regulated access to medical marijuana.

Larry Phillips
Essex Junction

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