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January 11, 2012

Department of Public Safety Releases Results of First-Ever Survey of Vermont Medical Marijuana Patients

F-growinglegit-weedThere's tasty green bud in them thar hills, and the Green Mountains' medical marijuana patients are smoking it by the ounce each month. Moreover, they're using strains as diverse and colorfully named as a Benjamin Moore palette: White Widow, Strawberry Ice, Pink Fusion, Tangerine Dream, Grape Ape, Pineapple Express, Dutch Passion and Barney's Farm Red Cherry Berry are just a few of the more than 90 strains identified in the first-ever survey of Vermont's registered medical marijuana users.

The report was released January 9 by the Vermont Department of Safety, which sent surveys to Vermont's 411 registered medical marijuana patients, of which 209 (51 percent) responded. (To read the report itself, click here.) The survey was mandated by a 2011 law that will eventually create state-run medical marijuana dispensaries in Vermont. It provides the first glimpse of an otherwise invisible population of chronically ill patients whose identities, medical conditions and locations are protected by strict confidentiality laws.

Little time, creativity or spell-checking went into naming this legislatively mandated document, which is officially titled the "Report From the Department of Public Safety: In complaince [sic] with S.17 of the 2011 Vermont General Assembly, Section 2A and Section 3 of the act for the marijuana for medical symptom use by persons with severe illess." Nevertheless, this legislative page-turner may be the most interesting document ever to emerge from the  halls of DPS, notwithstanding the severe nature of the ailments its respondents endure.

The major purpose of the survey was to get a handle on what Vermont's medicinal cannabis patients are using, why and how much they use, how much they're paying for it and what they'd be willing to pay for it. Ultimately, the survey is designed to help DPS create rules in setting up state-run dispensaries where registered patients can purchase their cannabis without having to resort to the black market and/or become amateur pot growers themselves.

Among the report's other key findings: The most common reason Vermont's medical marijuana patients are using cannabis is to manage chronic pain, followed by relief from severe nausea, wasting syndrome, seizures, spasms and anxiety, and as an appetite stimulant. That said, the list of symptoms patients mentioned is long and includes such diverse conditions as HIV/AIDs, anorexia, Lyme disease, PTSD, lupus, arthritis, depression, glaucoma, restless leg syndrome and heart disease.

When asked how much pot they were "consuming" in a month — smoked, eaten or ingested in some form — the largest number of respondents (75) said they use two ounces per month; 54 said they used about an ounce per month. At least 22 consume between two-and-a-half ounces to 6 ounces in a month. The vast majority of respondents (179) said they would purchase their pot from a state-regulated dispensary if one were available to them, compared with just 16 who would not. Three were undecided; 11 didn't respond.

How much money do patients typically spend for symptom relief? The composite answer might be summarized as "a shitload." The majority shell out more than $400 per month. In contrast, when patients were asked what they would consider a reasonable price per ounce, the largest number (more than 40) answered $51 to $100, followed by 35 who would pay $151 to $200 per ounce. While the results clearly skew toward wanting to pay less — who wouldn't? — the report does indicates a significant variation in what patients are willing to pay to relieve a multitude of symptoms and conditions.

Cover-tucci1Mark Tucci (right) is a multiple sclerosis patient from the Manchester area who is considered the father of Vermont's medical marijuana movement. He literally wrote the book on growing weed in Vermont for medicinal reasons, and was one of the principal authors of this survey. Tucci says he's thrilled by the return rate, which exceeded 50 percent. 

"I was kind of surprised at the [number of] write-ins, and how many people said they would use a dispensary," Tucci says. "I also found it interesting that most of the patients smoke an ounce or less...but there are just as many who smoke two and a half or more [ounces]. But what surprised me the most was the total honesty from these patients about why they use it: nightmares, night sweats, anxiety, even dry mouth."

Tucci sees this survey report as the next major step in the creation of dispensaries. About the only fact missing from the survey, he says, is which counties the patients live in. Having that information would obviously make it easier to determine where the dispensaries should be located. Still, Tucci says Vermont's legal cannabis users will experience even more symptom relief once the dispensaries are up and running and can provide steady, reliable and potent strains of grass.

"A lot of these people are going to be amazed," he says. "And, they're going to get excellent meds for not a lot of money."

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