Fact Finder: Medical Marijuana
Updated: Tuesday, July 15 2014, 11:23 PM EDT
Over the next 18 months, the New York State Health Department will set up a medical marijuana program in the state. The Governor signed the bill into law in July. New York is now the 23rd state to have a medical marijuana program, Vermont is another. CBS6 traveled to Burlington to learn more about how that program was set up and how it works.
Not far from the heart of downtown Burlington sits a non-descript office building by the water. Inside, is the Champlain Valley Dispensary, for medical marijuana. That’s where CBS6 met Debra Lentine.
“I have brain cancer. I have what's called a glioblastoma, which is pretty much incurable and aggressive,” said Debra Lentine, from Vermont.
Lentine said she has read about studies where medical marijuana is used to help patients like her.
“To help kill off the bad cells and help the chemo get to those cells,” she said.
“We do everything, seed to sale. We cultivate, we produce our edibles, we’re going to have lab testing, we do our extraction and then we sell. So not only do we have a farm, but we have a retail environment that we have to run,” said Shayne Lynn, the Executive Director of the Champlain Valley Dispensary in Burlington. It’s one of four dispensaries in Vermont.
He said that the state has strict rules to try and keep that marijuana out of the wrong hands. For example, background checks are done on employees, and grow and dispensary sites are secure.
“Video cameras, extra locks, safes, all the necessary precautions,” said Lynn.
He said the regulations also dictate who can go inside the dispensaries. CBS6 News didn’t have a registry ID card, so we weren't allowed in, even for video.
“This is a sample patient card. It has the patient’s name, the patient’s ID number, which is something law enforcement can check 24/7,” said Jeffrey Wallin, Director the Vermont Crime Information Center, which oversees the medical marijuana program there.
He said that patients, caregivers and employees all have to carry ID cards. Right now he said there are about 1,000 patients on the registry and 100 caregivers, but numbers vary. Most of the patients are adults.
In New York, similar regulations will be in place. The Health Commissioner, who will oversee the program, will have the power to set up more rules.
“We view this as something we want to implement in a tightly controlled environment,” said Wallin, “while allowing patients to access what they are entitled to access through the statute.”
He said that the state's job is to manage the registry and monitor the dispensaries. That includes scheduled and unscheduled visits.
“We will drop in, do a summary review of security to make sure their security is in place, do a spot review of their records,” said Wallin.
In New York, doctors will be trained and will help decide what dose and type of marijuana should be used by qualifying patients.
In Vermont, Wallin said that physicians don’t prescribe marijuana. They complete documentation that verifies a patient has a qualifying condition. Patients and dispensaries determine the type and dose used.
In both states, doctors are not compelled to participate.
“We have had on occasion physicians who have had questions about it or they aren't comfortable signing the form, and that’s their prerogative. We can't make them, or compel them to do it,” said Wallin.
“I don’t forget it’s still federal illegally. I make sure we always do what the state tells us to do so we are in compliance,” said Lynn.
Lynn said because medical marijuana is not legal across the country, finding a local bank to work with was a challenge.
He told CBS6 that the license application process to the state was extensive.
“Everything, from the security measures, to the strains you’re going to grow, how you’re going to grow, the locations,” said Wallin. “Background checks, fingerprints, everyone who’s going to be on the board has to have fingerprints, same with the employees.”
He said he doesn't know of anyone who has abused the program, but he said they keep an eye out for big changes in patient purchases. And he tries to set prices at a level that discourages resale on the street.
“We don't want that kind of diversion happening so that is a factor in how we price things,” Lynn said.
Lynn said that prices can range from $8 for a cookie to $400 for an ounce of medical marijuana that can be smoked. In New York, smoking will not be allowed. In both states, insurance is not required to cover the drug, so patients, like Lentine, pay out of pocket.