Vermont Permits Medical Marijuana Access For Chronic Pain Sufferers

By McCarton Ackerman 06/20/16

Adding chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana is one of many initiatives to address the state's opiate crisis.  

Vermont Permits Medical Marijuana Access For Chronic Pain Sufferers

Although the bid to legalize recreational marijuana in Vermont fell through in the statehouse this year, some significant reforms still made it through the legislature. 

As of this month, under a bill signed into law by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chronic pain is now one of the qualifying conditions for people in Vermont seeking access to medical marijuana. According to Vermont Public Radio, Shumlin's goal in doing so is to "reduce the need for people in Vermont to manage pain with opiates."

“Patients are substituting opioids with medical cannabis. And to us, this represents a big improvement,” said Dr. Kalev Freeman, an emergency room physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center. “Unlike the opioids we don’t see lethal overdoses with this substance.” Freeman also told VPR that the new legislation will allow for more research into cannabis as a suitable pain management alternative.

This is just one of the many initiatives Shumlin has unveiled since January 2014, when he devoted his entire State of the State speech to addressing the ongoing opiate addiction crisis in Vermont. During the address, the governor announced that he would immediately allocate $200,000 to allow treatment centers to increase staff and reduce their waiting lists. He also allotted $760,000 last year to help determine which offenders would best benefit from treatment instead of prison, launched plans to help identify drug hot spots in the state, and also held a statewide forum to discuss ideas on drug abuse prevention, education and treatment options.

“In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” said Shumlin in his 2014 address. “The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards.”

Last September, Shumlin blamed the federal government and the FDA for playing a role in the state’s opiate crisis. He declared they were “partners with the pharmaceutical industry” and said the state’s opiate problem started when "the FDA approved OxyContin and we started passing it out like candy."

He added: "Until we have a real conversation about painkillers in America, and how we deal with pain, I believe we are going to see more people signing up for addiction.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.