Cannabis insiders look for solutions amid declining Medical Marijuana license rates

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Cannabis insiders look for solutions amid declining Medical Marijuana license rates

In 2018 the number medical licenses were well over 5,000 across the state. 

That number has been nearly cut in half today.

As the budding industry of retail cannabis continues to grow in Vermont, medical marijuana dispensaries have reported a decline.

In 2018, the number of medical licenses was well over 5,000 across the state. That number has been nearly cut in half today.

Since the first retail shop opened in October of 2022, several businesses and cultivators have bloomed in Vermont.

Industry insiders said the first year of sales was better than expected but came at a cost to medical dispensaries here before the retail sale boom.

"From Oct. 1, 2022, when the first retail shop opened through Dec. 31, 2023 we're at about $118 million in taxable sales," said James Pepper with the Vermont Cannabis Control Board.

While the numbers come as welcomed news, medical marijuana dispensaries have reported a decline, which Vermont's Cannabis Control Board says was to be expected.

"This was a very predictable outcome of having adult use; the patient is just going to go to the closest dispensary and may have to pay the 20% tax on the product, but at least they don't have to drive 30 miles round trip to get there," said Pepper.

While more retail storefronts are expected to pop up across the state medical marijuana dispensaries say despite declining rates, more needs to be done to uphold the state's medical marijuana program.

"We're finding that there's really dedicated, committed customers who are relying on cannabis for their health care," said Noah Fisherman, co-owner of Zenbarn Farms Dispensary.

Zenbarn Farms in Waterbury Center has been in the business of cannabis since 2020 before venturing into medical marijuana sales.

Fisherman said most customers are in the market for products that help alleviate ongoing medical problems.

"The vast majority of medical customers are not in the medical program. That's very clear. So the vast majority of people that are using cannabis for good reason, for medical reasons, are not able to get the high dose products they need because we have a very arbitrary cap on THC percent," said Fisherman.

To address the growing decline, Pepper said the Cannabis Control Board is looking for solutions that could help offer more flexibility, accessibility, and better prices for patients currently using standalone medical dispensaries.

"The legislature historically has not been very willing to kind of expand who's eligible for a medical card. And so really, it seems to me that we need to just have a merging of adult-use and medical reform," said Pepper.

The board is in the process of proposing an enhancement to retail licenses that would allow storefronts to provide products to both medical marijuana patients and those looking to purchase pot for recreational use.

"This is one way to save the medical program and it's not trying to save the system that was created in 2011. This is really trying to identify a path forward that puts patients at the center of the market," said Pepper.

If put to use, the proposal would rely on adult-use retailers, and put some additional regulations that maintain patient confidentiality, offering delivery or reservation services and even dedicated hours for medical patients.

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Region: Vermont

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