Our Meg D’Elia gives testimony at Cannabis Control Board Meeting – CeresMED
Image: Screenshot from the Cannabis Control Board Meeting on June 24th, 2021.
We are happy to share that the Vermont Cannabis Control Board now has an online portal that contains all of the meeting recordings. You can find those here. In a meeting on June 24th, 2021, an overview of the Medical Use Program and Dispensaries was given by Virginia Renfrew, Lobbyist, Vermont Cannabis Trades Association and Meg D’Elia, Advisory Committee Appointee of the Vermont Cannabis Trades Association.
Virginia gave a thorough historical overview of the program. Did you know that the work to create a Medical Cannabis Program in Vermont began in 1998? Virginia’s firm represented the AIDS Services Organization and people living with AIDS to secure protection from persecution in their use of cannabis for symptom relief. They experienced the medical benefits of cannabis yet lived in fear of its use because of its illegality at the time. Virginia’s testimony begins 12:00 minutes into the recording.
Followed by Virginia, Meg testified to the Medical Cannabis Program’s services provided by the dispensaries and the challenges they and patients face within the program. She also describes the changes the VCTA would like to have implemented to increase access for patients. Meg is also an employee of CeresMED, and her official title here is Corporate Project Manager. Meg received a Masters Degree in Public Health with a concentration in pharmaceuticals and management from Boston University and a BA in biochemistry from Saint Michaels College. She is also a Project Management Institute (PMI) – Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), which she utilizes in her collaboration with medical professionals and researchers to conduct cannabis-based research. Meg currently serves as a member of the Cannabis Control Board’s Advisory Committee in her capacity as a representative of the Vermont Cannabis Trades Association (VCTA). Meg’s testimony begins 26:00 minutes into the recording.
Meg tells us that “The Cannabis Control Board’s Advisory Committee is composed of members with expertise and knowledge relevant to the Board’s mission. I will be representing the existing dispensaries as a representative of the Vermont Cannabis Trades Association. I look forward to serving as a resource for the Board as they review and revise the existing medical program and establish the adult use industry here in VT.” Click here for a list of all appointed Advisory Board members.
We are so proud of Meg and the work she does for the Medical Cannabis Program in Vermont. Her full testimony is provided below for those who cannot or do not wish to view the recording.
Meg D’Elia Testimony
Cannabis Control Board
June 24th, 2021
Good morning, my name is Meg D’Elia and I have been an employee of CeresMED, previously Champlain Valley Dispensary, for nearly 4 years. I also serve as a Representative of the Vermont Cannabis Trades Association.
First off, I would like to thank you for having me here today to discuss the medical program.
As you know, the medical program is foundational in Vermont’s cannabis industry. However, providing medical cannabis to the people of Vermont has been challenging for the dispensaries. As states across the country are expanding their medical programs, Vermont’s program has remained frozen in time with too many barriers to access, resulting in a decreasing patient base and a potentially unsustainable program. Now that cannabis is legal in the state of Vermont and has been since 2018 as Virginia alluded to, it does not make sense to continue to have such a restrictive program.
The 2018 legalization of cannabis had a significant impact on the medical program – as Virginia stated, about 500 people dropped out of the program when you no longer had to be registered to grow, and then we also saw the illicit market explode with product. With the restrictive nature of the program and the robust illicit market, the medical program has drastically declined. Simply put, it is easier for Vermonters to grow at home or purchase from the illicit market than it is to sign up with the Vermont Marijuana Registry.
We hope that the program can grow moving forward to incorporate 2-3% of Vermont’s population. To do this, we must address the barriers to accessing the program.
Patient Barriers to Access
Medical patients are constantly confronted with significant barriers to access including:
- A lack of knowledge about the program.
- Limited qualifying conditions as determined by the state rather than by health care providers.
- Only being allowed to shop at the patient’s designated dispensary.
- An annual renewal processes that is time consuming and costly to the patient.
- A 3-month waiting period after their first visit with a HCP before that HCP can sign their application.
- Being limited to the amount of cannabis they can purchase in 30 days.
- The cost of medical cannabis products.
While there is little the dispensaries can do to increase access via the program, they can offer financial assistance. CeresMed for example offers discounts to Veterans and to those who qualify for the 3 Squares program. Those who utilize financial assistance make up nearly 10% of the patients registered with CeresMed.
Requested Changes to the Medical Program
As Virginia outlined, VCTA has fought for years to make the program more accessible and inclusive. With the introduction of S.117 by Senator Sears, we had hoped to see significant changes made to the program, but the bill was never taken up by the House.
These amendments introduced in S.117 include:
- Removing the 3-month treating or consulting relationship requirement so that patients are not delayed in obtaining medical cannabis.
- Allowing health care providers to determine what medical diseases and conditions qualify a patient to participate in the medical program.
- Not only would this increase access, but it could have a positive impact on the opioid epidemic in Vermont. Policymakers in Colorado, Illinois, and New York now allow health care professionals to recommend medical cannabis instead of potentially addictive and deadly opioids. We are losing people at a staggering rate to opioids – why aren’t we embracing this safer alternative?
- Removing the requirement that a patient must designate a single dispensary as the one they will shop at rather than utilizing the services of any medical dispensary in the state.
- Increasing the possession limit to 3 mature plants and the purchase of 3 ounces per month.
- Allowing for reciprocity. Vermont is home to many snowbirds and attracts millions of tourists a year, some of whom possess medical cards from other states and could help to support our program.
In addition, we would also like to see:
- Removing fingerprinting requirements for caregivers as added by S.54.
- Increasing access via public transport by reconsidering geographic location restrictions
- Background checks for employees – use the example of what happened recently. We need to evaluate these situations on an individual basis for non-violent drug offenses.
The people of Vermont need the medical program. The medical dispensaries provide a variety of products that won’t be offered in the adult-use market – with higher concentrations of THC and without tax. Not only are the products a necessity for those in the program, but so is the service that the medical dispensaries provide. The dispensaries ensure that patients have access to knowledgeable, compassionate staff who are available should the patient need assistance. They also ensure that patients aren’t waiting in long lines or being rushed through the purchasing process.
Consumer Safety is Our Priority – Testing
We have and continue to be supportive of lab testing. CeresMed started their own lab to ensure the products are safe and have the anticipated cannabinoid profile. The lab is Emerald Scientific certified, so that patients can be assured that the products are of the highest quality.
We have never opposed third party testing – it just has not been available. We have identified a local third-party lab and are working with them to understand what that process will look like as well as to expand our testing capabilities.
However, we are concerned that with only one third-party lab in Vermont – there will be a bottleneck with the rollout of adult-use.
Move to CCB
It is our hope that moving away from the Department of Public Safety and to the Cannabis Control Board will create positive change for the program. This industry is constantly changing, and we look forward to having a regulatory body that is focused on that evolving industry and can provide support to the medical dispensary operators and patients.
Participation in Adult-Use
Along with moving the medical program to the CCB, the medical dispensaries look forward to participating in the adult use program. Ultimately, prices of medical cannabis are high due to the regulatory burden placed on the medical dispensary operators. To continue serving the medical patient base and to lower prices, participating in adult-use is the only option.
Our experiences have given us a preview of what this market could be like – and we want all future operators to succeed. We hope that the challenges we have faced will help construct the future medical and adult-use markets so that they are successful and accessible.