What is the Vermont Marijuana Registry?

In 2004, the Vermont General Assembly passed S.76, An Act Relating to Marijuana Use by Persons with Severe Illness. This piece of legislation creates an exemption in state law from criminal penalties for the use of marijuana to alleviate the symptoms or effects of a debilitating medical condition as long as it is done in compliance with 18 V.S.A. Chapter 86. The law also creates a registry of individuals who are eligible to receive this exemption. A person who is eligible to receive this exemption may choose a person who is at least 21 years old to undertake the responsibility for managing their well being with respect to the use of marijuana for symptom relief.

What is the Department of Public Safety's role in the Vermont Marijuana Registry?

The Vermont General Assembly placed the responsibility for managing the Vermont Marijuana Registry (VMR) within the Department of Public Safety. Vermont is recognized as having one of the best-run, tightly regulated medical marijuana programs in the country. The responsibilities for implementation and administration of VMR are assigned to the Vermont Criminal Information Center. The Vermont Criminal Information Center is a section within the Department that manages a diverse set of databases. One of its mission is the protection of the confidentiality and privacy of the personal identifying information contained in these databases.

Are Vermont dispensaries nonprofits?

Yes, all Vermont dispensaries operate on a nonprofit basis for the mutual benefit of our patients. However, marijuana businesses are not recognized as tax-exempt organizations by the Internal Revenue Service. Marijuana dispensaries are heavily taxed at the federal level under section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code.

What is the history of marijuana law in Vermont? How has it changed recently?

After increasing penalties for marijuana in the 1950s and early 1960s, Vermont dropped simple possession to a minor misdemeanor in 1967.  There was a failed movement in the state to decriminalize marijuana in 1978. In 2004, Vermont became the ninth state to approve medical marijuana. The state enacted legislation allowing four dispensaries to provide marijuana in 2011. Marijuana was decriminalized in 2013, and possession of an ounce or less by a person 21 years or older became subject to a civil penalty, similar to a traffic ticket. Vermont could pass legislation taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use in 2016.

Vermont law requires dispensaries to be vertically-integrated. What does this mean?

Vertical-integration means that Vermont dispensaries cultivate, manufacture, and dispense all marijuana and marijuana-infused products themselves. Dispensaries are not allowed to purchase from other growers or to contract with other service providers. There are many benefits to this vertical-integration model. Most importantly there is a constant chain of custody on every plant. This makes it easier to regulate the dispensaries and to control the quality of the product.

What does the federal law say about medical marijuana?

In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act creating five schedules (classifications) for substances. Marijuana was designated as a Schedule I Drug meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value. Federally speaking, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug. However, the U.S. Department of Justice (the federal executive branch that is responsible for enforcing the Controlled Substance Act) has issued four memoranda or guidelines to all U.S. Attorneys dealing with medical marijuana. Evidence is mounting that the Department of Justice and Congress are not going to interfere with state marijuana laws as long as states have strict regulatory frameworks in place. The cornerstone of the current federal policy on marijuana is known as the Cole Memo.

What is the Cole Memo and why is it so important?

The Cole Memo is the cornerstone of the current federal enforcement policy on state marijuana law. It was released in 2013. The Cole Memo sets out a list of federal enforcement priorities. It states that state regulation and enforcement should be relied on as long as these priorities are not implicated. There are eight priorities listed in the Cole Memo. They include preventing: (1) The distribution of marijuana to minors; (2) Revenue from going to criminal enterprises; (3) Interstate diversions of marijuana; (4) State-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover for illegal activity; (5) Violence and firearms being used in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; (6) Drugged driving and other adverse public health consequences; (7) Growing marijuana on public lands; (8) Marijuana possession on federal property.

Can dispensaries legally use banks?

While banking is one of the most profound and well-documented consequences of federal marijuana policy, it is possible for banks to work with marijuana related businesses. In February 2014, the federal government released guidelines for financial institutions. First, banks are required to conduct due diligence on marijuana customers to ensure they are not implicating any of the priorities set out in the Cole memo. Second, banks are responsible for filing various levels of suspicious activity reports on any activity involving a marijuana related business. Vermont is fortunate in the area of banking. All four Vermont dispensaries currently have banking relationships in the state.

How can a doctor prescribe marijuana when it is a Schedule I drug?

Vermont marijuana law (and those in other states) is carefully crafted so that doctors do not prescribe marijuana. In Vermont, a health care providers must only verify that their patient has a debilitating medical condition. The health care provider must also certify and that they have a “bona fide health care provider-patient relationship” with the applicant. The phrase “Bona fide health care provider-patient relationship” means a treating or consulting relationship of no less than six months duration, in the course of which a health care provider has completed a full assessment of the registered patient’s medical history and current medical condition, including a personal physical examination.

How many states have reformed their marijuana laws?

Twenty-three states have medical marijuana laws on the books. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use. In 2014, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia followed suit, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

What is the status of marijuana policy in the Northeast?

Marijuana laws in the Northeastern United States are rapidly changing. Every state in the region has enacted some form of medical marijuana law. Northeast medical marijuana programs are more tightly regulated than those in many Western states. Four Northeast states could potentially legalize marijuana for adult use in 2016 (Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island).