On Sunday, Vermont legalized recreational marijuana, joining a group of nine other states—and the District of Columbia— that permit the recreational use of cannabis.
Stopping short of setting up a Colorado-style marketplace that permits the private or retail sale of marijuana, the new Vermont statute allows for residents to possess up to two mature and two immature plants in a secure location, out of public view. The statute also permits residents to transport up to one ounce of marijuana in a sealed container when leaving their home.
Vermont renters must get permission from their landlords to use or grow marijuana at home.
The purchase of marijuana without a medical marijuana card, which can only be granted by a doctor, remains prohibted.
Vermont’s July 1 legalization also goes into effect amid questions over federal enforcement of marijuana prohibition, which asserts that “marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime,” according to a memorandum issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January.
Sessions’ memo, which has drawn criticism from criminal justice advocates, rescinds the Obama-era “Cole Memo” that directed the Department of Justice not to enforce federal marijuana prohibition in states with “strong and effective” systems for regulation.
Despite concerns over federal intervention, recreational marijuana users were joined in celebrations by advocates of medical marijuana (legal in the state since 2004), who are underlining the therapeutic implications of the new provisions permitting home cultivation.
“I’m excited for the recreational legalization,” said Jessilyn Dolan, a registered nurse specializing in opioid use disorder and pregnancy. “Even though recreational [mari- juana] is now legal, let’s not forget that, medicinally, this plant is one of the greatest medicines in our apothecary.”
Dolan serves as a de facto spokesperson for the Vermont Cannabis Nurses Association (VTCNA), an advocacy group of licensed and registered nurses who assert that readily-available cannabis could help Vermonters with chronic conditions offset their use of opioids and other medications, especially if it can be safely cultivated at home.
“I’d really like to help people learn to grow [cannabis] themselves,” said Dolan. “I feel that part of this plant’s healing medicine is not just taking a bottle off of a shelf, or taking a bud out of a jar,” she added. “I think it’s [about] understanding the plant, start to finish, and taking control of your own healing.”
To that end, the VTCNA is working to provide, for free, cuttings from mature marijuana plants to patients who wish to use them as an affordable addition to treatment for chronic conditions.
Mary Lacaillade, a registered nurse specializing in chronic care, believes there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest the efficacy of cannabis in treating chronic pain.
“I do think that evidence will show that—in my own opinion, anecdotally— medical marijuana or cannabis will decrease the need for opiates and thus reduce addiction,” said Lacaillade. “That is my nursing opinion from my years of experience of what I’ve seen first-hand.”
But the idea of using home-grown cannabis as medicine is not universally accepted within the medical industry. Doctor Chris Lukonis, who specializes in addiction medicine and behavioral health at Gifford Medical Center, is wary of medical professionals who are quick to embrace the mostly-untested effects of marijuana.
“I won’t be recommending cannabis for the treatment of any disorders because the research is not available to tell us what dosages, what compositions, or what indications are available or appropriate,” said Lukonis on Tuesday. “The research has yet to be done.”
Lukonis suspects the now-legalized recreational use of marijuana will ultimately lead to an uptick of cases of cannabis use disorder arriving at the doors of his addiction clinic. He believes that Vermont lawmakers have “jumped the gun” on legalizing the drug without proper data on issues such as driver impairment or the creation of measures to prevent abuse among young Vermonters.
“These are the sorts of things that haven’t been well-studied,” said Lukonis, “which makes me think that it’s a bit premature to be legalizing it without further study of the impact on the state.”
As for the VTCNA, which asserts that home-grown marijuana could be used to offset opioid use, Lukonis is unsparing in his criticism.
“I would challenge that nursing organization to think a little bit about their professional ethics,” said Lukonis, “[and] how they think that they have the knowledge that science doesn’t seem to even have about the proper indications for use.”
As far as the VTCNA is concerned, Jessilyn Dolan will continue with her plans to add marijuana to the medical toolbox for dealing with chronic care, even if medical science takes a few years to catch up.
“I think we’d really see such a benefit that we’re almost going to laugh wondering why it took us so long to get to this point,” said Dolan, who reasserted that cannabis is not a cure-all miracle drug.
“We can’t expect one plant to absolutely cure everything if we’re still going to eat McDonald’s, not exercise, and not drink any water,” she said.