The most recent cannabis-related bill to pass through the Vermont legislature was S.25, an attempt to reform and improve Act 164, which legalized a commercial marketplace for cannabis in the state, but left a lot of procedural issues unresolved.
As of this morning, the bill is still sitting on Governor Scott’s desk. According to Vermont law, the governor has 5 days to take action on a bill. If the bill is neither signed nor vetoed in that period, it automatically passes into law. This is a tactic - what VPR calls the “Meh Option” - employed when the Governor neither supports nor opposes the bill.
From a medical cannabis perspective, one of the most urgent points of concern was the future of the Marijuana For Symptom Relief Oversight Committee, a body which meets twice a year to evaluate and make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding the state and functionality of the medical cannabis program.
Under the rules of Act 164, which created a Cannabis Control Board (CCB) to oversee all of the state’s commercial cannabis activity, the Symptom Relief Committee would be absorbed - along with all the medical programs funds - by the CCB.
Vermont’s Cannabis Commissioner, James Pepper, has also expressed his support for the medical program, and desire to manage it personally.
Advocates suggested that the CCB maintain patient representation by adding a seat to their 12-member advisory board. The 13th member would be someone well versed in the needs of medical cannabis patients.
Unfortunately, the Vermont Cannabis Trade Association (VCTA), which represents the fiduciary interests of the dispensaries, managed to get that 13th seat allotted to one of their representatives, not a patient advocate.
However, some 11th hour activism by the medical cannabis community managed to secure a 14th seat for the Chair, or a designee, from the Marijuana for Symptom Relief Oversight Committee.
We need to ensure a way for patients to have access and enough medicine available.
Vermont’s Cannabis Commissioner, James Pepper, has also expressed his support for the medical program, and desire to manage it personally. This leaves us hopeful that this committee will be a much stronger and more consistent advocate for Vermont patients.
In reality, while the Symptom Relief Committee held a necessary and potentially vital role in Vermont’s cannabis landscape, the committee didn’t even meet in 2020 and their 2019 report, which would have advocated for numerous changes to the medical program, was never submitted to the legislature.
They did meet this year several times, and most recently, the virtual gathering on May 20 included Commissioner Pepper, and public participants, including Geoffery Pizzutillo of the Vermont Growers Association, and Amelia Machia, a patient and patient advocate (of course yours truly was there!). This was a great opportunity to learn about the Commissioner’s understanding of the medical program, and his plans for moving forward. He came across as thoughtful, concerned, and committed to serving the needs of some of Vermont’s most vulnerable citizens.
While we didn’t get all our requests met this session, we have created the relationships which will allow us to continue our work ensuring a better medical cannabis program for Vermonters.
Amelia and I also recently had the opportunity to speak to the House Government Operations committee about S.25, which helped them understand the importance of not only keeping the Symptom Relief Committee, but updating its members to better ensure representation of everyone involved in medical cannabis - including caregivers and cultivators.
My recommendations and requests for the CCB’s advisory board include:
- One registered patient appointed by each dispensary;
- One registered nurse appointed by ANA-VT (ANA-VT has started a statewide cannabis health care provider education)
- One physician appointed by the Vermont Medical Society;
- One naturopath appointed by the Vermont Association of Naturopathic Physicians (Naturopaths are the number one health care provider in Vermont for medical cards verification);
- One registered patient, caregiver and cultivator appointed by the Vermont Cannabis Equity Coalition;
- One cultivation expert and one lab science expert appointed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Hemp Program.
I’m also going to advocate fo legislation for the next session that will:
- Eliminate the three-month requirement for a bona fide health care professional-patient relationship
- Expand the definition of debilitating medical condition to include any disease, condition, or treatment as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s health care professional
- Increase a patient’s possession limit from two mature plants to twelve and from two ounces of useable marijuana to six
- Allow patients and caregivers to purchase marijuana and marijuana-infused products from any registered adult use dispensary or medical dispensary without paying non medical patient taxes (or require medical dispensaries to be non-profit and not serve the adult use market). We need to ensure a way for patients to have access and enough medicine available.
- Allow adult use dispensaries to deliver to patients
- Eliminate fingerprint requirement for caregivers
- Eliminate the requirement that patients with chronic diseases re-apply annually for their medical card
- Allow caregivers to care give for 5 patients (as NY allows)
- Allow each patient to have 3 caregivers (double for minors)
- Allow Reciprocity - meaning that anyone from out of state who has a medical card can shop at a Vermont dispensary - and vice versa.
- Remove THC caps for adult use retail. Many adult use consumer ARE patients. 70% of Americans are on pharmaceuticals. Many registered patients and consumer patients alike want the opportunity to support their local farmers and small businesses.
In the long run, whether it’s attending a symptom relief meeting, or testifying, it takes a team of loud voices to make change. While we didn’t get all our requests met this session, we have created the relationships which will allow us to continue our work ensuring a better medical cannabis program for Vermonters.
Also, under current Vermont law, the 5 medical dispensaries - in consultation with the Department of Health (a fear-driven agency when it comes to cannabis) - are able to create and use their own curriculum for staff training.
One thing I’m certain of - and explain often - is that regardless of who has official patient status and an actual medical card, many people who consume cannabis are using it medicinally.
A standardized statewide curriculum and mandated education for ALL retail dispensaries, regardless of medical or adult use, will ensure that ALL cannabis consumers, whether they’re official patients or not, have the most current, evidence-based information to help them consume more safely and effectively.One thing I’m certain of - and explain often - is that regardless of who has official patient status and an actual medical card, many people who consume cannabis are using it medicinally.
In fact, up to 70% of Americans - 7 in 10 people - are on prescription medications, making most Americans patients. So, just as we know that more people will have access to cannabis when adult use retail comes online, we need to understand that many of them will benefit from support, education, and consumer protection, just as a patient in a medical dispensary does.
From understanding how to use edibles, to understanding what clean lab tested cannabis is, to microdosing, to what cannabinoids and terpenes work best, to recognizing signs of cannabis use disorder, ALL Vermoters can benefit from knowledgeable, educated retail staff who not only know when to refer to medical professionals and what references to give out, but who are well-trained to support the healthiest consumption.
VTCNA, in partnership with ANA-VT, has launched a cannabis education program for dispensary staff and medical professionals with this exact sentiment in mind.
Education like this will not only better inform the mainstream medical community about the power and possibilities of medical cannabis, it will continue to work to break prohibitionist-era stigma and validate the reality of cannabis as medicine.
Cannabis art by Julie Fisheye