Tucked away in a corner of the Catamount Industrial Park just off Interstate 89, Champlain Valley Dispensary’s medical cannabis manufacturing operation is a quiet one, working in the background of the Milton community, just as they like it, executive director Shayne Lynn said.
CVD didn’t even have a sign out front for the first year of operating in Milton and directed people to the business by indicating the building with “three flags out front,” Lynn explained.
But things have changed since July 1, the date Vermont’s marijuana legalization bill became effective. Now that Vermonters age 21 and older can possess an ounce of cannabis and grow up to two mature plants, Lynn realized CVD needed to speak up about its mission and why joining a medical cannabis dispensary has its benefits.
These include ensured quality and a safe, consistent product; customer service with professional staff; and supporting local business and employees, as described in a document CVD hands out to patients wondering whether using a dispensary is right for them.
“Our hope is that instead of hurting us, maybe [the legislation] changes the communities and how people feel about cannabis,” Lynn said. “People are talking about it and understand that the stereotypes are being eroded.”
Stereotypes about medical cannabis are arguably shattered at Milton’s manufacturing center. In the main lab, workers in protective coats and safety glasses tend to baby plants under orange and purple lights. Even the room where edibles are made looks like a test kitchen for Bon Appetit or Fine Cooking magazines. Unless you looked up close at the leaves of the plants or the ingredients in the kitchen, the entire operation could pass for a botany research lab at any university in the country.
“Society has changed. There’s more understanding of the science behind the plant,” Lynn said. “It’s really important to develop a culture of responsible use with cannabis, and we’re creating that and the professionals behind it.”
While research and product development happens in Milton, CVD sells the products in three dispensaries in Burlington, South Burlington and Brattleboro, with a fourth opening in Middlebury this week. These dispensaries serve about 4,000 Vermonters with a medical cannabis card, which is almost three-quarters of the total number of registered patients in the state.
Lynn said this number is growing every month, and he hopes that trend continues.
“If you get into numbers across America, roughly 2 to 3 percent of the population would be using cannabis medically,” he said. “We’re probably at about 1 percent here in Vermont, so we see some growth there.”
Although the only current market for cannabis is for the medical product, there is talk in the Vermont Statehouse about a bill to create a legal market for marijuaa retail sales. In April, a bill was proposed to tax and regulate cannabis here, but it postponed due to what House leadership said was lacking time to properly vet the details.
While opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis, Minority Leader Don Turner of Milton – now a candidate for lieutenant governor – did not want to postpone the vote.
“Today, I vote no because I believe that legalization without regulation and taxation is bad policy for Vermont,” Turner said at the House session on April 27.
If the bill is revived, Lynn sees potential for CVD expanding into the new tax-and-regulate market and is excited for the competition it would bring.
“We’d have a community we’d be participating in,” he said. “You look to Massachusetts and Maine: It’s starting to happen down there, and it’s super competitive.”
Currently, the state of Vermont has permitted five businesses to manufacture and sell medical cannabis. However, if cannabis was brought to the tax-and-regulate market, businesses could vie for possibly 50 or 60 permits, Lynn said.
“We’d like to participate in that future market because we feel like we bring five years of experience and knowledge,” he said. “We want to be active and pursuing being a leader in that industry.”
For now, Lynn is focused on the medical market and continuing to provide quality products for patients. His commitment is apparent in his passion for the plant.
Lynn explained he has seen friends and family members with chronic sicknesses find relief through medical cannabis, and he wants the same for his patients.
“It means they’ve found an alternative with a whole-plant medicine that is locally produced that doesn’t have the side effects that a lot of the other pharmaceutical drugs they might be using [have],” he said.