With Strict Regulation, Is Vermont’s Medicinal Marijuana Program Viable?

 In Dispensaries, Health, Hemp, Local News, Medical Marijuana

When Vermont legalized medical marijuana sales, the new law put restrictions on the dispensaries that sold the product. And now some growers and distributors are having a hard time raising capital and meeting the challenges of running a business under such a restricted climate.

All of Vermont’s medical marijuana dispensaries are closed to the public, and you have to be on the medical registry — and have a card — to even walk through the doors.

Shayne Lynn operates the dispensaries in Burlington and Brattleboro.

And now he’s opened stores at both locations where the public can come in for products made from cannabinoid, or CBD. The product, made from hemp, is used as a digestive aid, a muscle relaxant and even in some cancer therapies. It’s legal to grow hemp in Vermont, and so consumers can purchase CBD products without any special registration or card.

Lynn says it’s one way to try to grow his business as Vermont’s medical marijuana industry struggles to find the balance between healthy policy and a viable business model.

“We are trying to build an organization here, and we weren’t seeing the growth that we had anticipated,” Lynn says. “So we did see this opportunity with CBD, in that it’s beneficial for a lot of people.”

When Vermont legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011, the law required them to be run as nonprofits, which means the operators can’t offer equity to investors — making it hard to raise capital.

And compared to other states, Vermont has a somewhat limited list of conditions that allow a patient to purchase marijuana. Further, Lynne says some doctors and potential patients are still shying away from using the therapy.

So Lynn, who also grows marijuana, has to make payroll and invest in the enterprise, but he says the state’s law and restrictions are making it hard to run a viable business.

“To do indoor growing, it’s expensive,” he says. “You have to have a lot of HVAC. A lot of lights and a lot of electricity — all of that takes a lot of money. And so it’s been a challenge.”

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Photo credit: Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR