WATERBURY, Vt. — With the passage and signature of S.16 this year, Vermont’s medical marijuana program expanded to include new qualifying conditions, an easier and faster registration process for new patients, and made significant changes to how medical marijuana is legally dispensed.
In addition to allowing the state’s four existing dispensaries to become for-profit businesses (eligible to receive out-of-state investment), the state also recognized the growth of the medical marijuana registry — 27% in the last eight months alone — and is presently accepting applications for a fifth dispensary license.
On Tuesday morning, over twenty individuals, representing at least seven serious contending entities, attended a meeting at the Waterbury offices of the Vermont Crime Information Center — the branch of the Department of Public Safety that oversees the state’s medical marijuana program.
The purpose of the meeting, held two weeks before the July 28 application deadline, was to answer questions for applicants — all of whom must pay a $2500 fee to apply — not already addressed in the detailed application itself.
Champlain Valley Dispensary, Southern Vermont Wellness, and the Vermont Patients’ Alliance were all present and represented by their respective founders/principles. There is not currently a cap on the amount of licenses that can be owned by a single entity so theoretically, an existing dispensary could be awarded the new license, independent of opening up satellite locations for existing locations.
There has been speculation that the Brandon license-holders, Grassroots Vermont might be shopping their license with the intention to sell, however, Heady Vermont has learned that the state’s smallest dispensary is instead expanding its cultivation facilities and pursuing a second retail location.
Bernie Barriere, a Bennington native and concert organizer who counts Willie Nelson as a family friend, has been a familiar face in Montpelier advocating for continuing medical marijuana reforms, and has been transparent about his group’s desire to open a dispensary location in Bennington.
He says that his group, Vermont Green Grow, has already completed their application and have been spending their time working with community allies, collecting patient testimonials, and even touring possible facilities.
Said Barriere, “We’ve been working on this process for awhile and have been working to educate policy-makers at the state and local level. We know that this area is underserved, we know that with a local dispensary, we’ll see an increase in patient numbers, and we believe that we’re the best ones to bring a compassionate and patient-focused approach to Bennington.”
Barriere wasn’t the only familiar statehouse face in the room as the headcount included a registered lobbyist from Montpelier lobbying firm MMR, whose client list includes Astra-Zenaca Pharmaceuticals, Proctor & Gamble, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Researchers of America, Wal-Mart, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Exxon-Mobile, Deloitte Consulting, MillerCoors, and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, among others.
That same lobbyist also represents a Vermont group called Vermont Green Mountain Growers, who sent two representatives to the meeting in person, and whose business is registered to an address in Springfield, Vermont.
Green State Gardener, the Burlington-based gardening and indoor cultivation supplies store was also present, represented by Nectar’s co-owner Chris Walsh. One of the founders of the Kria Group, Dan Chang, was also present at the meeting – the Kria Group website states their group is working with fellow Vermont Cannabis Collaborative members (including Green State Gardener investors and principles), with the goal of creating a ‘Botanical Center of Excellence’ and investment in a CBD hemp-growing project.
Also present was at least one entrepreneur from the Northeast Kingdom, who has experience in the hospitality world and who says he’s already been having discussions with law enforcement officials in his hometown of Newport about a possible location for a dispensary or cultivation facility.
While not there in person, Verdant Vermont, a self-described Vermont cannabis company with a business address in Newfane confirmed that they had a non-employee representative present taking notes and on their Facebook page say that they “will apply for, and hope to receive, a dispensary license for medical marijuana.”
There were also at least three other factions represented who declined to share their names.
Where Will Your Garden Grow?
One of the biggest concerns from the applicants was about potential locations. While there will be a fifth license issued, existing dispensaries are also scouting locations for where to locate their now-legal second ‘satellite’ retail locations.
There is no shortage of speculation and opinion about the best potential locations for new dispensaries, but with the exception of Vermont Green Grow and their Bennington application, applicants don’t have a way to know whether existing dispensaries and/or fellow would be license-holders are targeting the same locations.
When asked how these potential conflicts would be handled, Vermont Marijuana Registry officials said there would be no public notice, but that those competing entities would be notified.
Considering that the applications themselves solicit local support from current/prospective patients, as well as municipal policy-makers to weigh in, it would seem extremely difficult for an applicant to start a fresh application for a different location with enough time to submit a competitive application.
Editorial Note: It’s easy to say this in hindsight, but in the future it would be a much cleaner and simpler process to consider and award the new license, then have a separate closed application process for those dispensaries seeking a satellite location.
Who Picks the Winners?
As of late June, the application for the fifth dispensary license is available online on the Vermont Crime Information Center website and outlines the full selection criteria:
Determinations: A panel shall be convened by the Department to evaluate and score each application. This panel shall include a registered patient, a registered caregiver, and VMR personnel. This panel shall solicit input from registered patients and caregivers. The panel shall review each completed application that addresses all criteria and measures, including supporting information submitted during the open application period. Supplemental information may be requested and considered by the panel. The decision to grant a dispensary registration certificate shall be based on the overall health needs of registered patients.
On Tuesday, the Vermont Marijuana Registry officials confirmed that each of the judges will score the applications independently; however, the judging will not be blind, meaning the names of the applicants will be known to the panelists judging scoring them.
As the room full of applicants learned on Tuesday morning, the panel members who score the applications will make recommendations, however, the final decision of who is awarded the license will come from a single person: the state’s top law enforcement official, Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commissioner Thomas Anderson.
DPS officials, including Anderson, have publicly opposed other cannabis reforms, and in February were criticized by the Vermont Human Rights Commission, who determined that Anderson’s department had illegally discriminated against a Vermont patient with PTSD — a condition that now qualifies for medical marijuana, provided the patient with PTSD is receiving counseling.
The medical marijuana dispensary applications are due to Vermont Marijuana Registry Supervisor Lindsey Wells by 4:30pm on July 28, 2017, in both digital and hard copy formats.
When asked if documents could be delivered in person, Wells laughed, telling applicants, “you’re welcome to submit their applications early, but we will keep the door unlocked and be waiting in the lobby right up until 4:30.”