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Medicinal marijuana dispensary possible in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — A Burlington company is scouting a location near downtown Middlebury for operation of a medical marijuana dispensary.
The company in question is the Champlain Valley Dispensary (CVD), which currently supplies around 3,000 qualifying patients with medical marijuana — under strict state guidelines — in Burlington and Brattleboro.
“We want to give (Addison County patients) the convenience of not having to travel to Burlington,” said Shayne Linn, executive director of CVD.
Linn declined at this point to disclose the specific location of the proposed Middlebury dispensary, except to say it’s outside of the downtown. Chapter 86, subchapter 2 of the Vermont Statutes lay out the manner in which the state’s medical marijuana program must by run. The rules stipulate, among other things, that a dispensary can’t be located less than 1,000 feet from a nursery, childcare facility or school.
“We are talking to a landlord in Middlebury right now, and we are talking to the town,” Linn said of the dispensary plan.
“We believe Middlebury is a good location in part because (Porter) Hospital is there.”
He reasoned Porter Medical Center patients who have been approved for medical marijuana would find it easier to access their supply closer to home. There is currently a medical marijuana dispensary, called Grassroots Vermont, operating off Lovers Lane in Brandon, which is already fairly convenient to approved patients living in southern Addison County.
As of Aug. 24, there were 4,438 patients enrolled with the Vermont Marijuana Registry, including 233 in Addison County, according to the Vermont Department of Public Safety.
Middlebury Town Planner Jennifer Murray confirmed receiving a phone call from Linn asking whether the potential dispensary location could comply with local zoning rules.
Section 610 of the Middlebury zoning ordinances spells out allowable uses by district. Murray said she has asked Linn to specify which of the allowable uses within the targeted district with which he believes the dispensary can comply.
Middlebury’s zoning regulations, last updated in 2012, do not contemplate a “medical marijuana dispensary.” That means CVD will have to pitch the dispensary as a conditional use, a proposal that would have to be reviewed by the local Development Review Board. Local residents would have a chance to weigh in on a medical marijuana dispensary application, because such a permit cannot be issued administratively by the town’s zoning officer.
It was in 2004 that the state Legislature first OK’d the use of marijuana by citizens with such afflictions as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea and seizures.
Originally, the act simply removed criminal penalties for possession and cultivation for patients diagnosed with a “debilitating medical condition” and set up a mandatory registry to issue Vermont marijuana cards to those who qualified.
The law was amended in June of 2011 to authorize creation of four state-licensed dispensaries.
Then on June 8 of this year, Gov. Phil Scott signed a new law, Act 65, that expands patient access to medical marijuana and adds Parkinson’s disease and Crohn’s disease to the list of qualifying ailments. The law made multiple changes to the Marijuana Registry requirements and regulation of dispensaries, including allowing such dispensaries to serve patients at two locations under the same license. It is that latter change that paved the way for a possible Middlebury dispensary, according to Lindsey Wells, Vermont’s marijuana program administrator.
“The dispensary is working on gathering information required for the department to review,” Wells said, through an email, of the current status of a Middlebury medical marijuana site.
In related news, the Department of Public Safety on Sept. 22 announced it had conditionally approved PhytoScience Institute LLC as the fifth marijuana dispensary in Vermont. PhytoScience Institute plans to operate dispensing sites in Bennington and St. Albans.
It should be noted the state’s authorized medical marijuana dispensaries have nothing to do with the separate debate in the Legislature right now about the potential legalization of recreational marijuana. As reported last week in theAddison Independent, the Middlebury selectboard on Sept. 26 spent an hour debating the issue of marijuana legalization, which had been the subject of a recent townwide survey in which a majority of respondents said they favored legalizing pot.
Linn said the Champlain Valley Dispensary has a combined total of 55 full- and part-time workers and has been operating for four-and-a-half years, during which its dispensaries have never sustained a break-in, nor had to call local law enforcement. The dispensaries are equipped with security cameras. All cannabis is stored in safes, according to Linn.
If approved, the Middlebury dispensary would initially be staffed with around three workers, a number that could eventually climb to 10 if demand warrants, according to Linn. He believes the new dispensary would at first open for six days per week, probably from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Asked about the Middlebury dispensary’s chances of becoming a reality, he said, “I’m hopeful.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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