The Vermont Marijuana Legalization Act, which passed in 2017 with 67% of the vote and went into effect on July 1st, 2018, was a historic moment for marijuana legalization advocates. The legislation made it legal to cultivate cannabis plants in your home as long as you’re not selling them or getting any sort of profit from them. However, there’s one roadblock: Vermonters are growing enough weed right now that they might have trouble finding a place to buy when full-on retail sales begin next year! Will this be a problem? Experts say no way; cultivators will grow more than enough pot by then so the state won’t run out. Thing is…if everyone grows their own stash before Octane starts selling at dispensaries – what happens if supply still can’t meet demand? It seems like an impossible task but experts believe it’ll work out just fine
Topic: America’s “Viral” Drug Epidemic
The “vermont growers association” is a group of cultivators in Vermont. They are growing enough marijuana to meet the demand for when legal sales start. The Cannabis Control Board thinks so too.
Vermont’s cannabis retail market is due to launch in only nine months, and a number of other states are keeping a careful eye on the situation, since the state’s Cannabis Control Board has devised several laws that are unique to Vermont.
Mitch Wertlieb of Vermont Public Radio talked with senior political journalist Bob Kinzel about what the board is setting out that makes Vermont’s marijuana market unique, and how the state’s laws might be changed by the Legislature in the next legislative session. For clarity, their chat has been trimmed and condensed.
Mitch Wertlieb (Mitch): Let’s start with some of the unique aspects of Vermont’s cannabis legislation that haven’t been attempted in other states. These are states where cannabis has already been legalized for recreational consumption. What distinguishes Vermont from the rest of the country?
Bob Kinzel: I believe the most important thing the board is doing is prioritizing small cannabis farmers. James Pepper, the head of the Cannabis Control Board, wants to persuade individuals who are now cultivating cannabis for the criminal market to apply for a state license in 2022.
Pepper believes that Vermont has a lot of outstanding cannabis farmers right now, and that bringing these growers on board in a formal fashion will enhance the state’s retail system.
“To transfer as many folks who are now out there in Vermont, cultivating cannabis and selling it in an untested, uncontrolled fashion… attempting to establish a regulatory climate that encourages them into a regulated sector,” Pepper said.
“It lets them to transition from an illicit to a legal grow.”
Mitch, the recent experience of California’s legal retail system demonstrates the need of focusing on current small farmers. Many established farmers in California choose not to participate in the state’s scheme. As a consequence, the illicit market has developed in that state, and Vermont wants to stop that occurring here.
What is the board attempting to do, however, to ensure that huge growers — what’s known as the “corporate pot business,” if you will — don’t take over cannabis growing in Vermont?
Cultivation permits have been developed depending on the size of the growing area.
These regions might be as little as 1,000 square feet and as large as 25,000 square feet. Pepper told me that the board thinks that modest producers with facilities ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 square feet would be able to meet the state’s full cannabis demand.
To put things in perspective, the largest first license, at 5,000 square feet, is nearly the size of a basketball court.
“We built a very small-tier cultivator structure,” Pepper said, “far smaller than any of our neighbors.”
“And we decided as a board, ‘Let’s start with the tiny ones.’ And if we can do it purely via growers who produce 1,000 square feet, 2,500 square feet, or 5,000 square feet of cannabis canopy, we won’t open up some of our bigger tiers, which range from 10,000 to 15,000 to 25,000 square feet.”
The real issue now is whether or not this technique will succeed. Will tiny farmers be able to supply the state’s whole cannabis demand?
When the first growing licenses are given around May 1, we should have a much better understanding.
A commitment to certain social fairness requirements is also unique to this Cannabis Control Board strategy, as far as I can tell. What’s the big deal about that? And why is the board acting in this manner?
This is a clause about which several legislators were adamant. It offers a variety of financial benefits “to people of color, or anyone who can demonstrate that they are from a community that has historically been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, and that this person has personally been arrested, convicted, or incarcerated for a cannabis-related offense, or has had this happen to a family member.”
I inquired as to why this is such a high priority for the board.
“In essence, we have enough data and reports to establish that there were — and continue to be — differential arrest and imprisonment rates of individuals of color in relation to drug charges,” Pepper said.
“As a result, a key motivating reason for many lawmakers — who consented to this bill when they would not otherwise — was that they felt compelled to end prohibition and the war on drugs, and begin to offset some of the ills that have been inflicted over the previous 80 years.”
Many cannabis license costs would be eliminated as part of these financial incentives. Some of the state’s new cannabis tax money would also be accessible in the form of special loans and grants. The social justice clause will need parliamentary approval since it deals with the distribution of state tax revenues.
In addition to examining these social equality requirements, legislators will be debating a number of other significant policy issues this winter.
One, whether the state should give financial incentives for communities to open retail cannabis stores — since, as far as I understand it, local towns may opt out. Is it correct that, despite the fact that a statewide recreational marijuana law has been approved, localities are not required to have them?
Yes, it is correct. In order for a municipality to have a retail cannabis business, the town must consent to it. This requires a positive local vote.
Approximately two dozen communities have taken this step so far. Pepper is hopeful that this association will grow to include many more communities. He also believes that these settlements should be spread out over the state rather than concentrated in one area.
“These producers need a venue to sell it just to have a fully functioning market,” Pepper added.
“I believe people are becoming more comfortable with it, and I anticipate quite a few more communities to opt in to having retail outlets inside their boundaries at our next Town Meeting Day, and before that.”
The board wants to collect a tiny portion of the new state cannabis excise tax — which is expected to be approximately 14% — and offer it to communities that want to open a retail outlet. It would assist them in covering any unanticipated retail charges.
However, since it utilizes state tax dollars, legislators will have to approve it as well. There are fees, taxes, and the licensing procedure to consider.
If legislators generally agree of the board’s approach, the overall plan will most likely remain on schedule to open retail outlets on Oct. 1, 2022.
However, if important legislative committees decide to revisit any of these problems or bring in additional witnesses to testify, the board’s ability to fulfill the Oct. 1 retail deadline would be severely hampered.