Medical Marijuana in Vermont
By: Too Cool
The enactment of 2004 Act 135, “An Act Relating to Marijuana Use by Persons with Severe Illness” S 76, made Vermont the ninth state to legalize medical marijuana. The approval came after four years of intense lobbying by advocates of medical marijuana.
Then Gov. James Douglas was not supportive of the bill, yet he did not veto the legislation, allowing the bill to become a law without his signature. Act 135 was enacted by full legislature, becoming one of only a handful of legislations in Vermont not passed by voter initiative.
The Vermont General Assembly placed the responsibility for managing this program and creating the patient registry with the Department of Public Safety, which began implementing the law in December 2004.
The primary purpose of Act 135 “is to ensure that physicians are not penalized for discussing marijuana as a treatment option with their patients, and that seriously ill people who engage in the medical use of marijuana are not arrested or incarcerated for limited medical use of marijuana.” Sec.1f of S 76
Provisions and amendments
Act 135 was enshrined in VSA Title 18: “Health” Chapter 86: “Therapeutic Use of Cannabis.” Starting in 2007, several amendments were legislated.
Act 135 allows patients with “debilitating conditions” to be registered into the medical marijuana program which it defines as those suffering from cancer, AIDS/HIV, and multiple sclerosis.
Subsequent amendments has broadened and relaxed the definition as thus “A cancer, multiple sclerosis, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or the treatment of these conditions, if the disease or the treatment results in severe, persistent, and intractable symptoms; or B a disease, medical condition, or its treatment that is chronic, debilitating, and produces severe, persistent, and one or more of the following intractable symptoms: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe pain; severe nausea; or seizures”.VSA Title 18 Chapter 86 §4472 (4)
Another major amendment was in the amount of marijuana that can be possessed in between the patient and the registered caregiver. In Act 135, it should be no more than one mature marijuana plant, two immature plants, and two ounces of usable marijuana. This has been increased to two mature marijuana plants, seven immature plants, and two ounces of usable marijuana. VSA Title 18 Chapter 86 §4472 (10)
A patient can apply for a medical marijuana registry ID at the Department of Public Safety card if the person has been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, as defined in the statute, by a certified health care professional. A recommendation from the patient’s doctor for a medical marijuana treatment is also necessary. The department of public safety shall review and approve applications to become a registered patient in line with existing procedures.
There are 491 registered medical marijuana patients in Vermont as of March 2012. Vermont currently has no reciprocity agreements with other states even those states that have medical marijuana laws.
Thus, only patients issued with patient registry ID card in Vermont can avail of medical marijuana privileges in the state and cardholders in Vermont may not be allowed to avail of such privileges in other states.
Here Come the Dispensaries
There was no provision for the establishment of facilities and suppliers of medical marijuana in Vermont in Act 135 and the earlier amendments. This was one of the most patent inadequacies pointed out by medical marijuana patients and advocates. Patients must grow their own plants indoors or rely on their own caregiver who is allowed to provide medical marijuana to a single patient only. VSA Title 18 Chapter 86 §4474 (a)(1)
To address this issue, Vermont legislatures enacted a bill S. 17 in May 2011 that authorizes the establishment of four state-regulated dispensaries. In June 2011 Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill into law despite a threatening letter sent to the governor and the legislative leadership by Vermont's US Attorney.
"The Department of Justice will carefully consider legal remedies against those who facilitate or operate marijuana dispensaries or marijuana distribution or production as contemplated by S. 17, should that measure become law," said Vermont US Attorney Tristram Coffin in the letter.
A registered dispensary may “acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, transfer, transport, supply, sell, and dispense marijuana, marijuana-infused products, and marijuana-related supplies and educational materials for or to a registered patient who has designated it as his or her dispensary and to his or her registered caregiver for the registered patient's use for symptom relief.” VSA Title 18 Chapter 86 §4474e (a)(1)
The dispensary is allowed to “cultivate and possess at any one time up to 28 mature marijuana plants, 98 immature marijuana plants, and 28 ounces of usable marijuana.
However, if a dispensary is designated by more than 14 registered patients, the dispensary may cultivate and possess at any one time two mature marijuana plants, seven immature plants, and two ounces of usable marijuana for every registered patient for which the dispensary serves as the designated dispensary.” VSA Title 18 Chapter 86 §4474e (a)(3)
But for threats from Federal Justice Department, the future appears bright for medical marijuana in Vermont.