2020-21 Improvements and Recommendations
In late 2020, Vermont’s legislature passed S.54, a bill to legalize cannabis for all adults over 21. The bill became law without the signature of Governor Scott, who had reservations about whether it would address the concerns of social justice advocates; it is set to roll out in stages, with full retail access for the public by May 2022. Throughout 2021, we have seen the development of this program. Most notably, with the formation of the state’s cannabis control board, which will take the responsibility of regulating cannabis retail sales, in March. Legislators who shared Governor Scott’s reservations about social equity in S.54 passed an additional bill in 2021 to address one angle of that. S.25 seeks to establish a cannabis business fund that will grant low interest business loans to people of color and others affected by the war on drugs.
The retail program set out in S. 54 will bring some changes for patients aside from the transition in regulatory authority. These include striking the rule binding patients to a single dispensary and removing language that prohibited possession and dosing on school grounds, opening the opportunity for individual school boards to develop that policy themselves. It is also possible registration fees could go up now that the price of $50 will no longer be written into the law come March 2022.
While ASA is happy to see small strides forward, Vermont’s neglect of medical cannabis has allowed access to atrophy. To the average adult seeking medical cannabis in Vermont, registration as a patient doesn’t seem to make a significant difference. Vermont’s lawmakers have done nothing to protect patients past the criminal penalties that no longer exist thanks to the state’s voters. Significant protections must be extended to cover employment, parental rights, housing, organ transplants, and to protect against DUI charges for patients. The state shouldn’t expect the new retail licenses it will grant for the recreational market to fill the gaps that its limited licensing of medical cannabis dispensaries has caused in access across the state. Lawmakers should look at what has been done in Maine with the caregiver system and model a parallel retail system after that.