Dispensary need not be feared

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The Elm Street location that PhytoScience Institute, LLC, and its CEO, William Cats-Baril, had proposed for the town's first medical marijuana dispensary has been scrapped due to neighborhood opposition, and the search for a new location is on.

The building the proponents had in mind was a former medical practice that might have made sense for such a use. But Cats-Baril has said all along — and wisely — that he's not going to force such a facility on a neighborhood that doesn't want it.

We think there ought to be some clarity and understanding as to exactly what this is and what it isn't — and why, if sited in the right location, it makes sense.

It's understood that a residential neighborhood would be nervous about hosting a business where marijuana and money change hands.

But now that the enterprise is looking for a new location, it's time to remind folks what this is — and what it isn't.

It's not the sort of shop where one can stock up on rolling papers, pipes, incense and other items long associated with the recreational use of marijuana. This is a medical facility, where people with a prescription will go to purchase a controlled substance with legitimate medical benefits.

The patrons are not kids or weekend warriors looking to score a bag for a weekend of partying. These are cancer patients looking for relief from chronic pain, or from the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

With that in mind, a medical practice environment or an existing commercial development might make the most sense — an area where cars and foot traffic are already a fact of life and where security can be established.

Surely, there must be a location in Bennington where this business can serve a need and add some jobs and tax revenue into the local economy.

What's more, there's an odd double standard at play here that needs to be addressed.

Walk into just about any corner store or supermarket, and if you can prove you're 21, you can buy a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. There are medical studies linking moderate consumption of red wine to heart health, but we've never seen a prescription for a bottle of Chianti.

At the same store, you need only be 18 to legally purchase a pack of cigarettes — a product which, if used as directed, will lead to addiction and eventually kill you. Any doctor worth her medical degree would slap your cigarette out of your hand if she saw you try to light up.

Depending where you live, the town general store might also have a state-sanctioned liquor store attached. Vodka doesn't prevent trips to the emergency room; it causes them. But the state has been in the liquor business since the end of Prohibition.

No one bats an eye at any of this.

Nor do we question the fact that strong narcotics can be obtained with a prescription at a number of local pharmacies, something that happens on a daily basis with little fanfare.

And yet here we are, vexed about where to put a medical business where you need a prescription from a doctor to buy a product that, while causing side effects of its own, is legitimately used by cancer patients to relieve pain and nausea.

If we're ever going to regulate the sale and taxation of marijuana in this state — and given the dire revenue forecasts coming from Montpelier, that seems inevitable — then we'll eventually have to confront the double standards between marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. That's another debate for another day.

In the meantime, common sense says a dispensary ought to be welcome in Bennington, if the right location can be found.

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