Vermont’s brisk regulatory pace is endangering the development of a smaller-scale craft cannabis industry, according to the Vermont Cannabis Equity Coalition (VCEC). The state is going from a standing start approving its first dispensary licenses next Spring.
The VCEC held a Zoom press conference on Oct. 25, to present its recommendations to the state’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB) as it crafts the regulation that will dictate the state’s emerging retail cannabis market.
“Our vision for a cannabis economy in Vermont is one that is racially just, economically equitable, agriculturally accessible, and environmentally sound,” said Geoffrey Pizzutillo, executive director of the Vermont Growers Association. “We envision a Vermont cannabis market where Black, Brown, and poor folks are assured an equitable opportunity for success.”
Pizzutillo represented just one of several organizations that are working together as the VCEC to advocate for policy with the state’s Cannabis Control Board.
The overall concern from the group was about the short time period that the Cannabis Control Board has before its final recommendations must be approved by the legislature in order to ensure that the first retail dispensaries are approved by Spring 2022.
Graham Unangst-Rufenacht, of Rural Vermont, spoke about the need to limit the max canopy space for indoor growers at 10,000 square feet indoors, and 40,000 square feet for outdoor cultivators. He added that the state should create pathways for growers that already have small-scale operations and wish to enter the legitimate market.
“We also recognize that a lot of the legacy growers may be growing in their homes and they may not be large commercial structures,” said Unangst-Rufenacht. “We recommend a micro scale license of about 250 square feet.”
Mark Hughes, of the Racial Justice Coalition, spoke to the need of considering racial disparities and economic and legal impacts when creating an equitable and how that may be a challenge while the state is pressed for time when writing the rules for adult-use.
“The absence of a racial impact analysis by the marijuana commission at the beginning of this process was a spoiler. We still have a lot of ground to cover,” said Hughes. “Of course all that stuff couldn’t happen at the breakneck speed that Geoffrey just described so what we’re doing is we’re doing catch as catch can.”
Joshua Decatur, who has a background as a legacy cultivator and currently serves as CEO of Trace, a seed-to-sale tracking company, argued that the state should take special consideration to assist small-scale growers and to give them the power to directly sell their product.
“If we’re asking Vermonters to begin cultivating and to be allowed to cultivate, they must
Creating a space for smaller-scale growers will protect the market from being dominated by larger multi-state organizations, according to Decatur.
“If we allow large businesses to create giant grows or giant production facilities that don’t fit the size of the expected market in Vermont, we risk the market itself becoming unsustainable for anybody other than the largest participants,” he said.
“This enabling legislation has sort of been a slow moving train wreck from the very beginning,” said Pizzutillo.
The legislation that legalized adult-use cannabis in Vermont, stipulated that the governor would appoint members to the Cannabis Control Board by January 8, 2021. Those appointments actually took place about 10 weeks later.
Now that the CCB is active, the VCEC wants to ensure that stakeholder voices are not lost in the shuffle of a new state agency scrambling to kick start a new commercial industry.
“We are not asking for more time. We’re asking for a more inclusive process,” said Pizzutillo. “I think we can arrive on time with a more inclusive process.”