Vermont Cannabis Control Board offers a closeup as the remaining Board members hang out in the background at right.

Aspiring cannabis operators in Vermont will be able to apply for pre-qualification status on Mar. 16, but state regulators cautioned that bureaucratic hurdles may be hindering that process during the Mar. 14 meeting of the Cannabis Control Board.

The pre-qualification window comes while the CCB is still in the process of finalizing the five guiding rules governing its emerging cannabis industry. 

“We believe that there are many benefits to pre-qualification, however, this is an extra step, there are non-refundable fees and pre-qualification does not give you the authority to start operating,” said CCB Chair James Pepper. “From my perspective, it is probably not for anyone that intends to apply on April 1.”

The state will begin accepting applications for small cultivation licenses, for those seeking no more than 1,000 square feet of cultivation space, and testing lab licenses, on April 1. The state’s five medical license holders will also have the opportunity to apply for adult use status on the same day.

One month later, the remainder of the prospective cultivators can apply. Aspiring operators can apply for manufacturing or wholesale licenses on July 1, while applications for retail licenses can be submitted on Sept. 1.

The board approved Rules 1 and 2 which establish how cannabis licenses are issued and the rules that govern the use of those licenses, respectively. Rules 3 and 4, which cover the state’s medical cannabis program and license enforcement still have open comment periods that must be completed before they can be approved. The fifth and final rule, which has not yet been submitted for public approval, governs how board members can be removed from the CCB.

Part of the pre-qualification process involves submitting to a criminal background check. Currently, the CCB is not authorized by the FBI to collect fingerprints from applicants. As a result, the applicants must submit their prints directly to the FBI and obtain their background report in order to hand it over to the CCB.

“We still haven’t been authorized to receive those finger prints,” said Pepper. “We’ve been waiting for quite a while and we are being a squeaky wheel with the FBI on this.”

The other hold up is a bill currently in the Vermont state legislature that would formally establish the fee schedule licenses and allow the CCB to legally collect those fees.

“We will have an online way to pay the fee, but we’re not authorized to collect this fee at this time,” said Pepper. “The plan is to allow people to submit their applications without the fee, but the board will ask that you do pay the fee prior to being granted that certification.”

Further, the board is not able to waive application fees for social equity applicants, because the same bill that would set license fee limits, would also grant the CCB authority to determine whether or not someone qualifies for social equity status.

Pepper added that in lieu of being able to waive fees for social equity applicants, the board could credit those payments to future license renewal costs.

The CCB approved the first two rules on Mar. 14, as they were the only ones to have completed the mandatory public comment period. The rules go into effect 15 days after the vote, meaning two days before the April 1 start to the license application window.

The CCB also voted to enact Rules 2, 3 and 4 on an emergency basis so that they can immediately go into effect instead of having to wait 15 days.

The existing rules that governed Vermont’s medical cannabis program expired on Mar. 1, meaning that for the last two weeks, there was technically no regulation in place that covered the medical cannabis industry.

“Because Rule 3 is still working through the rulemaking process, there is currently not a rule in place that is effectively governing the program,” CCB Executive Director Brynn Hare.

Rules 2 and 4, which cover the rules for operating and violation enforcement, respectively, must also be in effect in order for Rule 3 to be functional.

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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...