Although legal adult-use cannabis sales in Vermont are still a long way off, residents 21 and over are able to grow cannabis in their homes for recreational use as of July 1.
Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation earlier this year to allow adults to cultivate four mature plants and two immature plants in a secure location in their home, said Tom Little, co-chair of the Vermont Marijuana Commission, a study commission organized by the governor to analyze the pros and cons of what Vermont residents call “the home-grown legalization option.”
“Law enforcement is getting anxious about that—they believe they’re going to have increased law enforcement responsibilities for impaired driving,” Little told Cannabis Business Times. “Landlords are trying to figure out what the law says about whether they can prohibit production and consumption of marijuana in their apartments.”
With home cultivation taking effect, the Vermont Marijuana Commission will now turn its attention to studying the best way to tax and regulate adult-use cannabis in the state, which was approved through the state legislature and signed into law in January.
The commission’s report on adult-use legalization and sales is due by Dec. 15, Little said, adding that Scott has made it clear that he is not yet prepared to support a retail sales, tax and regulation model in the state.
“What he’s asked for in the December report is—assuming Vermont decision-makers are ready to make a decision about that, up or down—what should the Vermont version of that model look like that works best for Vermont,” Little said. “So, we’re looking at how other states have done that—Colorado, Washington, and now Massachusetts and others—to see what would be the best way to structure that kind of a legalization for a state like Vermont and is there anything we would want to do differently in Vermont based upon our legal system and our social culture and that sort of thing.”
Licensed medical cannabis businesses in the state, such as vertically integrated Champlain Valley Dispensary + Southern Vermont Wellness, are eagerly awaiting the launch of the adult-use market. “The hope is that come December, this commission will present its findings to the governor and the statehouse, and there’s some talk that maybe by February 2019, ‘tax [and] regulate’ would be presented and potentially passed by the statehouse,” said Shayne Lynn, Champlain Valley Dispensary + Southern Vermont Wellness’ CEO and executive director. “At that point, we’ll understand the dynamics.”
Champlain Valley Dispensary + Southern Vermont Wellness holds two of the five medical licenses in the state and has been licensed for about five years, Lynn says. The company will have four retail locations operational within the next 30 days, when it opens two additional locations.
“We’ve been lobbying to ensure that the medical program can survive and coexist with a tax [and] regulate model,” Lynn added. “One of the things that we try to really stress—not only to our regulators, but to our representatives—is making sure as tax [and] regulate potentially comes online that the definitions are the same, that there are not two separate laws that aren’t working together, so that there would be one set of statute—rules and regulations—that would hopefully cover both the medical and the tax [and] regulate.”
Lynn looks forward to the expansion of the cannabis community in Vermont as adult-use businesses join the handful of established medical operators.
“Our hope, though, is to participate, and we feel like we bring a lot of knowledge—obviously five years’ experience—to the marketplace, and we look forward to community, too,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a larger business community with tax [and] regulate who are having discussions and a voice in helping be a part of and basically operate this tax [and] regulate model.”
Scott will seek re-election this fall, and while some of his opponents may be more pro-legalization than he is, Little said that Vermonters are probably waiting to see how home cultivation plays out before turning their attention to retail sales. “I think people want to see how this first step goes, and do the terrible things that some people say are going to happen, do they really happen, or is it sort of a non-event?”
Lynn wants to ensure people are responsible with home cultivation and that people understand the benefits and side effects of cannabis, he said. And in the meantime, Champlain Valley Dispensary + Southern Vermont Wellness will continue to emphasize the medical program’s attributes and make Vermonters aware of the benefits of signing up. Although cannabis businesses in Vermont are not allowed to advertise, they can promote themselves through education-based content, which Champlain Valley Dispensary + Southern Vermont Wellness has taken advantage of.
“We want to participate and be a part of the industry that grows up in Vermont because we have a sense and feeling that we have the experience to share with other people and as the state of Vermont becomes a national leader in the cannabis industry,” Lynn said. “Especially in the flowers that are grown here and the products that are made here, we’d really like to see Vermont become the standout in the cannabis world.”
Photos courtesy of Champlain Valley Dispensary + Southern Vermont Wellness