Legislators say Vermont’s medical marijuana law has by and large been a success. But they’re applying new scrutiny to a form of cannabis that is generating public health concerns in places where marijuana is available legally.
Why? Because smoking isn’t for everyone.
“Some people don’t necessarily want to smoke dried flower, and they don’t want to vaporize it either,” says Shayne Lynn, executive director of two of Vermont’s four medical marijuana dispensaries. “And they might have issues with their lungs; they might have issues with their throat; their doctor might not believe in a medicine being smoked.”
For patients averse to inhaling their doses of treatment, Lynn has plenty of alternatives.
“So at this point we have a selection of different kind of edibles, be it low-calorie, gluten-free, kind of healthy alternatives versus just sweets,” Lynn says.
The proliferation of edibles in the legal marijuana market, however, has prompted public health concerns unique to this kind of cannabis ingestion. Emergency room doctors in Colorado, where voters legalized marijuana last year, have reported an increase in the number of children showing up after unknowingly ingesting a marijuana-laced sweet.
And even adults who know what they’re biting into often don’t find out, until it’s too late, that they’ve consumed an unadvisedly high dose of the drug.
“One of those warnings ... with edibles is that it takes longer for the effects to come on,” Lynn says. “Some edibles may take a half hour, some may take an hour. So a person taking edibles has to be cautious, has to go low, go slow when starting up with edibles.”
Vermont has four medical marijuana dispensaries and about 1,400 eligible patients. Those figures are dwarfed by the booming marijuana markets in places like Colorado, Washington and California. And no one is reporting widespread problems with edibles here.
But with a debate over marijuana legalization in Vermont on the horizon, and with edibles already being sold in the state's four dispensaries, lawmakers are looking to get ahead of the curve.
Windham Sen. Jeannette White, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, says her committee is considering a bill that would require edibles to be sold in child-resistant packaging. The legislation would also require strict dosage instruction on labels.
“I believe that the impetus for that bill came from the potential for legalization, not necessarily the medical marijuana,” White says. “So we just decided that we would address it here, because if it’s going to come to us later, we should address it now.”
Lynn says he’s supports the measure, though he’s asking lawmakers to give dispensary owners like him a workable timeframe so they can make necessary changes to their manufacturing processes.
Lynn’s lone cultivation center has a kitchen in which employees produce all the edibles sold at his four dispensaries.
“I think the caution out there is real and that we do need to figure out what are the appropriate steps, not only for children but pets, and for the adults that have been given the privilege to use cannabis as medicine here,” Lynn says.
Lynn and White say existing Vermont law already provides some measure of protection against unintended consumption of medical marijuana – patients must bring small “lock boxes” with them to the dispensary, and put any product they buy into it before they leave.
The bill would make other miscellaneous changes to the state’s medical marijuana law.
White says her committee will devote Friday afternoons to begin designing what may ultimately become a marijuana legalization statute. White says the committee will use a recent report from the RAND Corporation to create a quote “skeletal outline” for what a legalized marijuana market might look like in Vermont. She says she expects the Legislature to debate the merits of that proposal next year.
This story was edited at 11:51 a.m. on 2/2/15