The State of Medical Marijuana in Vermont
2020 Grade: C
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Vermont state lawmakers spent time in the 2019 legislative session considering legislation to regulate and tax cannabis in the Green Mountain State, however, that legislation was tabled for action in 2020. Prior to turning to COVID emergency measures, state legislators were advancing bills (S 54) that would regulate and tax cannabis and provide for criminal record expungement of cannabis possession convictions (S 294). These measures are expected to receive new consideration in the 2021 legislative session.
Vermont also expanded some features of its medical program as part of the state’s response to COVID. These enhancements included maintaining operations of medical cannabis businesses, and authorization of curbside pickup and delivery to reduce patient exposure to close contact. Vermont also extended expiring patient identification cards for 90 days, allowing patients to maintain safe access without having to visit a doctor to determine ongoing eligibility. ASA recommends permanently maintaining these new program features.
In addition to these recommendations ASA also encourages state lawmakers to address serious flaws with the state medical program that is on the brink of collapse. Lack of legal medical cannabis product supplies, poor medical product quality and diversity and a limited population of licensed medical cannabis retailers has created an environment in which patients cannot secure access to safe, legal, third-party laboratory tested medical cannabis. As a result patients are abandoning the state’s medical program in favor of seeking access in neighboring states with more advanced medical systems. ASA asks that state lawmakers and regulators spend time in 2021 fixing these issues that are critical to ensuring patient safety, as well as remove requirements that patients may only access a single legal medical retailer.
Vermont enacted S 76 in 2004, which established a patient registry that provided legal protections for qualifying patients and their primary caregivers who possess or cultivate small amounts of medical cannabis. Under the law patients and their designated caregivers may possess up to two ounces of usable cannabis, and patients only included those with cancer, HIV/AIDS and/or multiple sclerosis. In 2007, S 7 was enacted to increase the authorized patient cultivation limits to two mature and seven immature plants, and allowed licensed physicians in neighboring states to recommend cannabis for Vermont residents. S 7 also expanded the qualifying conditions to include any chronic, debilitating condition or its treatment that produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, or seizures.
In June 2011, Vermont enacted S 17, which authorized up to four state-licensed medical cannabis retail facilities and allowed physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to write recommendations. Dispensaries opened in the spring of 2013 to extend legal access to patients. The state medical program was expanded again in 2014 via S 247, which added delivery programs to existing dispensaries and granted naturopathic physicians the right to recommend medical cannabis. In 2016, Green Mountain State lawmakers passed S 14, which changed the definition of the qualifying condition of severe pain to the less restrictive condition of chronic pain.
In 2017, Governor Scott signed S 16, legislation improving the state’s medical program by allowing patients to have access to a designated dispensary and to cultivate at home. Prior to this bill, patients had to choose between the two. Under the law dispensaries are also able to open second locations based on patient needs. The law also expanded the patient condition eligibility list by adding Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and PTSD.
In 2018, Vermont enacted H 511, which authorized home cultivation of up to two plants and personal possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for Vermont adults, unrelated to the state’s medical program. Also in 2018, regulators reported that the number of medical cannabis patients in the program has dropped significantly since the legalization of non-medical cannabis possession.
Surveyed patients again report that prices are very high, leading some to turn to the illegal market for affordable access.