Brandon may host medical marijuana dispensary

BRANDON — Brandon may be the site of the next medical marijuana dispensary in the state of Vermont.
Alexandra Ford of Rutland County Organics has been in negotiation with Chuck Mitchell Properties regarding the lease of a 6,700-square-foot building at 84 Lover’s Lane in Brandon. Built in 2008, the structure housed a wood furniture manufacturing facility operated by Mitchell until late last year.
The property is currently in the rural development zone and is permitted for light wood manufacturing. Ford has filed for a change of use to a licensed medical marijuana dispensary and manufacturing facility. The town Development Review Board will consider the application at a hearing on Feb. 19. The meeting will be held at the Brandon Rescue Squad building on Route 7 at 7 p.m.
The Vermont Medical Marijuana law of 2004 allows for up to four dispensaries statewide to serve almost 500 patients on the state registry. There are currently two dispensaries up and running, one in Burlington and one in Waterbury. Ford said there are almost 200 patients on the state registry living in four southern counties of Vermont who are unable to access the more northern dispensaries.
As of Feb. 1, there were 39 patients on the registry living in Rutland County and 36 patients in Addison County, according to Lindsey Wells, the Medical Marijuana Program Administrator with the Vermont Criminal Information Center. She said her office has no applications for medical marijuana dispensaries in Addison County.
By law, a patient must suffer from a “debilitating medical condition” in order to qualify for the medical marijuana registry. State law allows patients suffering from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, HIV, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, wasting disease, or Parkinson’s disease to access medical marijuana in order to alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Patients must have the approval of a physician they have been seeing for at least six months, who authorizes the use of medical marijuana for the patient once all other avenues have been exhausted. Patients must be screened by the Department of Public Safety, submit to a background check and agree to no-knock searches by law enforcement before being accepted onto the state registry.
The dispensaries operate under the authority of the state Department of Public Safety. They must operate by appointment-only, and only one patient at a time can be seen. The facility must be equipped with surveillance and alarm equipment, including video surveillance cameras and motion detecting lights. Ford said she would require at least 3,000 square feet of self-contained space where the marijuana would be both grown and distributed. She also needs at least a 400-amp power supply to run the grow lights.
The rub is that while the medical marijuana dispensaries and the use of medical marijuana by those on the registry is legal in Vermont, it’s still illegal under federal law. But the Legislature did make a provision of the 2004 medical marijuana law stating that towns in which a dispensary is located cannot be prosecuted under state law. But the law also allows towns to opt out of the program.
Despite the restrictive nature of the law, officials in Rutland City, Wallingford, Fair Haven and Stowe were quick to vote against allowing such facilities in their municipalities last fall.
But in December, after a number of meetings on the topic including a personal pitch by Ford, the Pittsford selectboard voted 3-2 not to ban a medical marijuana dispensary from town limits.
The Brandon selectboard is taking a different approach. Because there is no town bylaw, ordinance or regulation in effect that prohibits the existence of a medical marijuana facility in Brandon, the board has left the matter up to Town Zoning Administrator Tina Wiles, who instructed Ford in a Jan. 9 letter that she would need to file for a change of use.
Ford has been scouting locations for the dispensary since last September when she received conditional certification from the state, and the clock is ticking. She only has six months from the Sept. 25 date of that certification to find a suitable location for a dispensary, which gives her until March 25. She has been working with Wiles and town Economic Development Officer Steve Beck to find possible locations in Brandon since last month.
Reached by phone last week, Ford is cautiously optimistic that the town permitting process will go well.
“We’re a less intrusive use than what’s there,” Ford said of the furniture shop. “It should go smoothly, but you never know.”
Ford said she anticipates seeing between two and five patients a day. She said it has been a pleasure working with officials in Brandon.
“We just think Brandon has been fabulous,” she said. “We think we have a spot that will be private yet accessible to our patients. We’re very excited.”
If all goes well, Ford said in a few years she would relocate the clinic part of the dispensary to a separate location and keep the grow operation on Lover’s Lane.

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