BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Senate is poised to approve a bill that will allow medical marijuana dispensaries for approved patients.
Debate began Thursday evening on legislation that would allow for as many as four medical marijuana dispensaries around the state. Each dispensary would face an annual licensing fee of $32,000, and a non-refundable $2,500 application fee. The dispensaries would then be allowed to sell marijuana to people registered with the Department of Public Safety to possess medical marijuana.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, a sponsor of the bill, said patients registered with the state -- about 340 people -- currently have to grow their own marijuana, or have a caretaker grow it. He said some patients resort to buying pot on the street from drug dealers because growing it themselves is too hard.
"The whole idea is to avoid having someone's grandma who is 80 years old having to go out on the street corner and buy marijuana," Sears said.
The legislation is largely the result of the efforts of Manchester resident and medical marijuana advocate Mark Tucci, according to Sears. "I worked closely with Mark as did the draft person in legislative council," he said.
Tucci, who has multiple sclerosis, has written a book teaching patients how to grow marijuana, and has lobbied lawmakers to allow medical marijuana in Vermont.
Not everyone agrees, though. Sears said some are now opposed to dispensaries because they've expanded significantly in states like California where they already exist.
"The biggest concern is really about ... what's happened in states like California and Colorado and others. We feel like we've really tightened it up ... and it has the strong support of the Department of Public Safety," Sears said.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette has expressed some concerns about a dispensary in or around Bennington.
"He did have concerns. What kind of controls might be placed? Does it become a magnet for others if in fact the controls are not rigorously followed?" Hurd said. "A lot of concerns have to do with what the impact would be on the community drug situation."
Sears said there are plenty of controls. A dispensary could not be located near schools, for instance, and the sale of medical marijuana would have to take place in a secure area, not a storefront. Additionally, any community could stop the opening of a dispensary if the town government rejected it.
"Each community on their own could just determine they didn't want it and say no and that would be it," Sears said.
Bennington Select Board Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr., a former state representative, said the Select Board would gauge the interest of residents and experts if someone was looking to open a dispensary in Bennington.
"We'll just get all their feelings before we take a vote," he said. "I'm not going to raise my hand and ask for it unless the folks here want it."
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