The Vermont Cannabis Control Board meeting online on Monday, Feb. 14.

Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board announced, during its Feb. 14 meeting, that prospective adult-use market operators in Vermont will soon have the chance to apply for pre-approval from the state, even as the board continues ironing out the regulations that will govern that market.

Applying for pre-approval, which will officially begin on March 16, will not be a requirement for would-be operators, but board chair James Pepper encouraged applicants to participate, in order to make it easier for them to enter the market without significant financial risks before getting approved to open for business.

“We think that there are benefits to a pre-approval process,” said Pepper. “This is not required, but before you make any investments or sign any leases, getting pre-approved is probably a good idea.”

Other states require applicants to meet financial or local approval milestones before they can be considered for a final license. This can make it burdensome for new entrants in the market.

For example, Rhode Island required applicants to secure facility leases before they could be considered in last fall’s lottery for one of five medical dispensary licenses, when the lottery was delayed by legal action from a disqualified candidate, lottery participants had to continue paying leases on unused facilities for almost a year.

Pepper hopes that the pre-approval process will make it easier for applicants to obtain capital or local zoning permits.

“Many towns and financial institutions really want to see some approval from the board that your business could operate,” he said.

Pre-approval applications will require a $500 fee, but that will later be deducted from the $1,000 application fee for a final license. The pre-approval will expire after one year.

“This essentially splits the application process into two steps,” said Pepper.

Aside from announcing that pre-approval applications open in about a month, the CCB also discussed how it might regulate what can be used in vape cartridges, especially amid ongoing safety concerns over inhaling additives in those vapes.

In late 2019 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there was an outbreak of vaping-associated lung injury (VALI). The CDC reported in Feb. 2020 showed that the government agency was able to confirm at least 68 deaths from VALI from 2019 through Feb. 18, 2020.

In almost all of those cases, vitamin E acetate was detected in the lungs of victims. Well over half of the vape cartridges submitted to the CDC for testing contained the additive, which is used as a thickener. The report also found that vitamin E acetate was commonly used on the illicit market rather than by legal, licensed processors.

Pepper also noted that another problem with artificial additives is that a lot of them are unregulated, at least in terms of their use in inhalants.

“The vast majority of additives are produced by companies that are not regulated,” he said. “They’re essentially creating food additives. You’re buying this serum of flavor in bulk and everyone is saying that it’s safe for food, but it’s not necessarily safe for inhalation.”

It can also be common for companies that manufacture flavors to avoid disclosing ingredients in order to protect trade secrets. Pepper said that if the CCB intended to regulate additives it may need to consider a process that allows ingredients to be confidentially disclosed without it becoming part of the public record.

The CCB is still in the process of determining the extent to which it will require seed and sale tracking. Pepper said that using a computerized tracking system could also present an option for tracking ingredients of manufactured cannabis products. This would make it easier for the state to oversee a product recall, such as what is currently taking place in Pennsylvania after the state’s Department of Health determined there were multiple brands of vapes that contains additives that had been approved by the FDA for inhaling.

Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon currently require ingredient disclosure for inhalable products in the state’s respective Track and Trace System, according to Pepper. 

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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...