Marijuana in Vermont: What’s Been Happening and What’s to Come

By KENSHIN CHO

Over the past year, the legal use of marijuana has been attracting more and more attention in Vermont. Just last month, PhytoCare, a cannabis company from Waterbury, opened the state’s fifth licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Bennington.

The dispensary is capitalizing on the interest in cannabis as a treatment option for a variety of medical conditions. Owners of PhytoCare expected about 20 registered patients at opening day, but demand swelled, and 86 people had already registered, according to the VTDigger.

With more interest, laws governing the legal use of marijuana continue to evolve. But the changes have been accompanied by some confusion. What’s legal and what’s not? Where can you buy weed? Can’t you just smoke already?

It’s high time that The Campus bring together all the recent news and laws to give a snapshot of marijuana regulation, production and consumption in the state today.

(Almost) Legal

Signed into law in January, Bill H.511 is the most significant victory for the legalization movement so far, allowing recreational marijuana use for adults over the age of 21. It will go into effect on July 1, meaning that possession today is still illegal. And there will be limits.

Compared to the laws of other states that have legalized recreational use, Vermont’s is one of the strictest. The bill removes penalties for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana. But buying or selling in the state remains illegal. Instead, people can grow up to two mature and four immature plants at home.

There are also provisions in the bill that increase criminal penalties for those who sell to minors.

Medical Use Continues to Rise

Since 2004, when the first medical marijuana law passed the legislature, the number of patients has grown every year to reach around 5,000 today, according to data from the Vermont Marijuana Registry. Every patient is required to register with one of five licensed dispensaries, and is only permitted to purchase treatments from that facility. The highly regulated system leaves little room for loopholes often associated with medical use.

Because H.511 doesn’t allow for the establishment of a full-fledged recreational marketplace, these dispensaries maintain a monopoly over the commercial production and sale of marijuana in Vermont. That means if any changes happen, they are likely to be the first to profit, writes VPR.

The new dispensary in Bennington, for example, is now hoping to create a cultivation facility nearby. And if the plan goes forward, owning infrastructure that can grow plants on a large scale would position them well to take advantage of any opportunities that may soon come up in the recreational space.

Meanwhile, new state laws are continuing to facilitate medical marijuana. Last June, Act 65 went into effect, authorizing existing dispensaries to open one additional branch each, as well as to allow for a sixth license when the number of patients reaches 7,000. Due to this law, several dispensaries are looking at new locations, including Middlebury, in which to build additional branches.

The Push to Tax and Regulate

According to a 2015 report by Rand Corporation, people in Vermont collectively spend about $165 million every year on marijuana. For the state, the figure represents a significant potential source of tax revenue.

Supporters of legalization are itching to take the system to the next stage— implementing a full tax and regulate structure that states like Colorado have. In fact, two weeks ago, lawmakers in the Vermont House brought up a bill hoping to do exactly that. The bill faced fierce resistance from both Democrats and Republicans, which, with the legislative session ending in a few weeks, would leave little time to flesh out specific details. As a result, the house voted 106 to 28 against the plan.

Still, many lawmakers are hesitant to vote for full legalization. Governor Phil Scott has repeatedly said that he would only consider new bills when his marijuana advisory commission comes back with recommendations on addressing safety concerns.

In particular, police are concerned about the difficulty of issuing marijuana-related DUIs, since there are no breathalyzers for the drug. A proposal in the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee would have authorized the use of roadside saliva testing, but that was also rejected last week. Without a clear threshold to determine influence, lawmakers felt that the test was unreasonable.

H.511 will remain the standard for the near future.

Still Prohibited at the College

Despite the shifts in the state, Middlebury’s policies have not changed. The general council sent a notice to the school community in response to Vermont’s legalization reiterating this message, highlighting federal law and student health as main concerns.

Because the drug is still prohibited on the federal level, any easing of Middlebury rules would jeopardize its access to federal funds. With more than $22 million of federal financial aid money at stake, it’s unlikely that the school will consider easing its guidelines.

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About the Writer
KENSHIN CHO, Local Editor

Kenshin Cho ’20 is a local editor.
He previously served as staff writer.
Cho’s academic interests include political science, religion, and economics.
During...

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Marijuana in Vermont: What’s Been Happening and What’s to Come