Since Vermont legalized growing and possessing cannabis in July 2018, the number of registered medical marijuana patients has dropped off sharply. Now the dispensaries that pioneered growing and selling medical pot in the state say their futures rely on selling recreational weed in a legalized marketplace.
The medical program lost approximately 500 patients, from a high of about 5,700, in the 10 months since partial legalization took effect, according to the Vermont Department of Public Safety, which oversees the registry. More could choose not to renew their cards, which cost $50 annually. Dispensary operators say sales have declined by about 20 percent since last July.
“I’m hoping we’ve found our bottom at this point,” said Shayne Lynn, executive director of Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness. “But I don’t know if we have. And that’s the part that’s very nerve-racking.”
The slump could deepen: Leaders of the Vermont House announced this week that a closely watched bill to legalize the retail sale of cannabis would have to wait until next year for a vote, potentially delaying the development of a recreational market.
High overhead costs have long kept dispensary operators from competing with the illicit market. They say a flood of product grown and sold illegally since last year has only compounded the problem. And curious customers have gone to check out the goods in Massachusetts, home to newly legal recreational dispensaries, according to Christopher Walsh, the president at Grassroots Vermont, a medical dispensary based in Brandon.
“We all expressed concern when this went down with the July 1 law, and everything is unfolding exactly as we said it would,” Walsh said. “The only people who got hurt in this are the medical dispensaries.”
Those dispensaries are