BENNINGTON — The first medical cannabis dispensary in one of the state's underserved areas is being greeted enthusiastically by patients, operators said.
They also revealed that a vacant industrial building in Bennington is one of the sites being considered for a marijuana cultivation facility that the organization, PhytoCare Vermont, hopes to establish this summer.
"We are very excited," said William Cats-Baril, chairman of PhytoCare board, which opened the dispensary April 17 in a small retail center at 120 Depot St.
"I think we had a good reception," he said, "and we are grateful for the support of the community."
Cats-Baril said the dispensary was expected to open with about 20 registered patients but already has 86.
"It shows that the state was right that Bennington was an underserved area," he said.
According to facility director S.J. "Wilson" Decandio, patients registered with the Bennington dispensary have been receiving medical cannabis, following an initial consultation to help determine the most effective product to address their medical issue.
In addition to registering with a specific dispensary, patients with qualifying medical conditions also must have a program identification card through the state.
Those conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, Crohn's disease or Parkinson's disease, or in some cases PTSD or chronic pain.
Decandio said she consults with each new patient to discuss their needs and help determine the amount or type of product or delivery method — such as smoking, tinctures, vapor systems or edibles.
Patients are seen by appointment only, and the dispensary is now open three days per week, although those hours could be expanded depending on the number of patients.
Cultivation facility planned
Cats-Baril said PhytoCare Vermont also plans a cultivation facility, and although the Waterbury-based organization had been looking primarily in that area, a Bennington site was suggested to him when the group was searching for space to lease for the dispensary.
He declined to identify the industrial building at this time, as the search for a cultivation site is still preliminary. Other sites in the Middlesex-Moretown area also are under consideration, as is the possibility of constructing a new structure for indoor cultivation.
In Bennington, he said, the building owner seems willing to work with PhytoCare to prepare it for marijuana cultivation. That requires a concrete floor with a good drainage system, an ability to maintain an even growing temperature and security features.
Once up and running, the cultivation facility is expected to employ about 10 people, he said.
Currently, PhytoCare is purchasing medical cannabis products from two other licensed entities in Vermont: Vermont Patients Alliance and Champlain Valley Dispensary, Cats-Baril said, under terms of a one-year agreement. He said PhytoCare hopes to know by June where its cultivation facility will be located.
The front of the space leased for the Bennington dispensary currently is unoccupied, but Cats-Baril said plans call for an apothecary, offering holistic products, such as creams, gels and other non-regulated hemp-related products, or an alternative medical business or practice, such as one offering acupuncture.
He said PhytoCare is considering working with a group of investors in the area for the retail operation and expects to announce further details within a month.
During a visit to the dispensary office waiting room, Decandio pointed out that the two sections of the leased space — the former local office of the Vermont Registry of Motor Vehicles — have separate entrances. The medical cannabis is stored in a third section at the rear of the space, adjacent the waiting room area.
She said she previously worked in the medical marijuana industry in Massachusetts, with New England Treatment Access in the Northampton area.
One major difference between the state programs, Decandio said, is that in Massachusetts persons with an ID card to obtain medical cannabis may purchase it at any dispensary, while in Vermont, patients must designate one dispensary.
That issue became a temporary problem for at least one local patient in the program, who Decandio said is changing his designation from a Brattleboro facility and had canceled his association with the former dispensary before the new Bennington designation was fully processed at the state level.
Information for residents on how to have themselves designated as patients of the Bennington dispensary is available on the website for the state registry, at http://medicalmarijuana.vermont.gov/
PhytoCare also operates a laboratory facility in Waterbury, which researches and develops medical marijuana and performs quality testing for the Vermont Patients Alliance and other entities.
Cats-Baril said a new nonprofit called Nutraceutical Science Laboratories, will operate that facility going forward, and he will be chairman of the board for both groups.
PhytoCare was awarded the fifth medical marijuana license under the Vermont program in 2017, allowing it to open two dispensaries and a cultivation facility. The organization also is searching for a dispensary site in St. Albans, he said, and hopes to have space leased by the end of the summer.
There previously were four licenses listed by the state program, which resulted in facilities in Montpelier, Brattleboro, Brandon and Burlington, but none in southwestern Vermont.
The same legislation that provided for a fifth license, which PhytoCare was awarded through a bidding process, also allowed existing license holders to open satellite facilities in other locations. Among those proposed for dispensaries were in Middlebury, South Burlington, Williston and Hartford.
The new Bennington dispensary can be reached 802-753-7094.