Vermont Division of Fire Safety Division Manager Landon Wheeler, left, addresses the Cannabis Control Board during its May 31, 2022 meeting.

A misunderstanding of what does and does not constitute a public building in terms of fire safety code could be slowing down Vermont’s approval process for adult use cannabis licenses.

“I mentioned a few times that fire safety needs to talk to every prospective licensee,” said Cannabis Control Board Chair James Pepper during the board’s May 23 meeting. “If your operation is not within their jurisdiction they’ll issue you a letter to that effect, but we want to see that letter. If you are within their jurisdiction they will work with you.”

As part of the state’s license approval process, all applicants must submit either a certificate of occupancy or a letter stating that the applicant’s property is exempt from oversight from the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Fire Safety.

During the May 31 meeting of the CCB, the board invited Landon Wheeler, regional manager for the Department of Public Safety’s Fire Safety Division to explain what prospective cannabis operators must do amid a large number of applications that remain incomplete due, in part, to fire safety concerns.

“Two hundred and twenty-six applications have come through our door and every single one of them has to go through you,” Pepper said to Wheeler.

The CCB has been able to approve about a dozen license applications, including the seven that were approved on May 31.

All properties that are not deemed as “public buildings” are exempt. That problem is that the state defines “public buildings” as all properties excluding owner-occupied single-family homes, daycares, and working farms.

“If you rent a property in any capacity, it’s a public building,” said Wheeler. “If you have two or more employees, you’re a public building.”

Wheeler also said that there the state specifically scrutinizes whether or not fire safety codes apply because the largest numbers of fires in Vermont come from non-public properties.

“That’s where we have the most amount of fires and unfortunately the most amount of fatalities,” he said. “Bringing in grow lights, dehumidifiers and wrapping walls with plastic are all concerning to the Division of Fire Safety.”

Any property that has to be refitted or renovated for it to function as a cannabis facility will have to go through the construction approval process and complete the work before its owner can apply for a cannabis license.

“The Cannabis Control Board will not process your license until you have some documentation from us. If you are not a public building, that documentation will be a letter from me,” said Wheeler. “If you are a public building and you are going to have a construction permit and inspections, the documentation you want to submit to the Cannabis Control Board is a certificate of occupancy or use, which you do not get until after any work is completed.”

Wheeler also noted that it was possible for applicants to receive a temporary certificate of occupancy in the event that they are planning to get multiple types of cannabis licenses for a single property, such as if they want to grow indoors and then also process some of the cannabis into concentrates.

“If you had a large grow operation, and you had an ancillary facility in the building, but you wanted to get your grow up and going, we would work with that individual to get occupancy for each of those phases,” he said.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...