Now that we have a functional adult-use cannabis marketplace in Vermont, we’d like to highlight the fact that the Medical Cannabis Program has been up and running here for over ten years. We are always amazed at how many Vermonters are still unaware that this program exists or if they do, that they don’t know who qualifies nor how to access it. This is partially due to the fact that the program has not been promoted well by our state government and licensed dispensaries were not allowed to advertise their services until recently. Healthcare professionals have also been historically slow to embrace the program, which means that if a patient was not actively talking to their physician about the option, it most likely was not being discussed. Underneath it all is the fact that Vermont originally created one of the most restrictive programs in the country; both in terms of patient access and limited licensing. These and other reasons have resulted in Vermont historically having one of the lower participation rates in the country when compared to other states with regulated programs.
We’d like to see this change for the better but we are also well aware that every state that has legalized adult use after implementing a medical program has seen registration numbers drop when retail stores open. Actually, in Vermont, we started to witness this trend after homegrown and possession were legalized for adults in 2018. The Cannabis Control Board (CCB) took over regulation of the program from the Department of Public Safety in 2022. They made some immediate rule changes to improve access and plan to advocate for updates to the laws in the upcoming legislative session. They will also work to ensure quality and safety standards are consistent between the adult use and medical markets.
We believe that the Medical Cannabis Program offers a lot of benefits to Vermonters, whether they are accessing it through the dispensaries, a caregiver or growing their own at home. We will continue to advocate for it and are hoping that the Vermont Way of legalizing cannabis could eventually mean either an expansion of the Medical Cannabis Program in the face of adult-use or some new version of an adult-use marketplace that also supports people using it therapeutically. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be harder to access cannabis for a person using it medically than it is for someone using it for wellness or recreation.
While it is great that Vermonters now have two ways to legally access cannabis, it is important to know that registering with the Medical Cannabis Program does offer a variety of benefits to Vermonters. Below we list our top seven reasons Vermonters should consider joining the Medical Cannabis Program if they qualify.
Number 1: Private consultations. These are super important for people managing complex medical situations and looking for symptom relief. Patients are able to make appointments for these consultations at medical dispensaries, which is generally not the case at retail stores. You might be able to make an appointment for express pick up, but you won’t get a consultation at the same time. Medical dispensaries are required to offer a private setting for these appointments. In our experience at CeresMed, patients took full advantage of this service and were able to access on-going, one-on-one consultation, in person and follow up conversations via email or phone.
Number 2: Sliding Scale Pricing. Licensed medical dispensaries are required to offer a sliding scale payment option to registered patients that demonstrate financial need. Each license can develop its own system with approval from the CCB. Medical cannabis is not covered by insurance due to federal prohibition. As an out of pocket medical expense, it can get expensive quickly, especially for patients who are already facing multiple healthcare costs on a limited income. The sliding scale helps to ease the pain on your pocketbook. Even a little goes a long way here.
Number 3: No taxes. Yep you read that right. There is no sales tax allowed on medical cannabis in Vermont. Compare that to the 20-21% total sales tax you will pay in the adult-use market and that’s a lot of cabbage staying in your pocket.
Number 4: No potency limits. Higher potencies can be helpful to patients managing chronic and debilitating conditions. The adult-use market imposes a 30% ∆9THC limit on flower and a 60% ∆9THC limit on solid concentrates. It also restricts the serving size of an infused product to 5mg of ∆9THC or less with an additional 50mg limit on total ∆9THC per package. The medical dispensaries offer a wide range of potencies across product categories. Caregivers that are growing and/or making products for a patient are also free of these potency restrictions.
Number 5: Higher purchase and possession limits. Medical patients are allowed to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis at any one time. Compare this to one ounce in the adult-use market. This can be important to medical cannabis patients that are limited in their ability to travel to a dispensary to obtain their cannabis. Being able to purchase what they need for a longer period of time at one appointment instead of making multiple trips is a huge help. Nobody enjoys running errands when they are not feeling good or when they are juggling multiple healthcare appointments on a regular basis.
Number 6: Home Delivery. This can be a quality of life service, not just a simple convenience, for a variety of reasons. In extreme examples, registered patients can be homebound, indefinitely or temporarily based on their qualifying condition. Others don’t have access to transportation, private or public. And in some cases, the dispensary is simply too far away. Currently, there are only 6 locations to choose from: Bennington, Brattleboro, Montpelier, Brandon, Middlebury and South Burlington. That leaves quite a few people without a local option and folks in the Northeast Kingdom with quite a trek. Home delivery is currently not allowed in the adult use market.
Number 7: Caregivers. Patients can assign a caregiver to either purchase or grow cannabis for them. Caregivers serve an essential role for patients that are homebound or unable to grow cannabis for themselves. Caregivers that are growing cannabis for a registered patient can also produce concentrates or infused products from that cannabis or from flower or shake that they purchase from a licensed dispensary. This can reduce the overall cost for patients. It is important to note here that a patient can designate a caregiver to grow for them and continue to purchase products from the dispensaries. It is not either or. The same is true when a patient is growing for themselves. Caregivers are also permitted to participate in consultations at the dispensaries, either as a replacement for the registered patient or as a companion. It is always helpful to have a second set of eyes and ears to advocate for you when you are learning something new, especially when it comes to your health and well-being.