The Vermont Cannabis Control Commissioners, second from left, Julie Hulburd, James Pepper, and Kyle Harris at the Jan. 27, 2022 meeting. Credit: VT CCC

The Vermont Cannabis Control Board is considering requiring cannabis producers to use biodegradable or reusable packaging, but remains on the fence as to whether or not such a requirement would be too onerous.

“I certainly want to encourage it. I don’t know that I’m comfortable requiring it,” said Commissioner Julie Hulburd.

The commissioners were considering public comments on Jan. 27, in response to the first two proposed state rules for Vermont’s upcoming adult-use market. The first rule governs the application process, while the second concerns operational rules for cannabis establishments.

In this particular case, the three-commissioner board considered demand for a requirement for sustainable packaging for cannabis products.

State safety requirements call for cannabis packaging to be opaque and to include child-safety mechanisms, similar to lids on bottles for prescription medications. This need for safe packaging can conflict with concerns for packaging that does not generate a large amount of waste.

“This is really the elephant in the room,” said Commissioner James Pepper. “This is a massive amount of plastic waste that we’re necessarily going to create.”

Despite demands for sustainability, Commissioner Kyle Harris was reluctant to support a mandate, considering how that might burden emerging operators. Rather, he suggested that operators could be encouraged to use sustainable packaging to attract environmentally-minded clientele.

“I think the committee was hesitant to require that when it’s a cost burden. I think some folks can use that as a marketing tool,” he said. “If a certain consumer only wants to buy from a brand that uses renewable packaging that helps that brand separate themselves at the point of sale.”

Pepper also argued that requiring sustainable packaging could hinder the growth of Vermont adult-use market amid ongoing supply chain problems in the nation.

Hulburd argued that the board should specifically allow the use of reusable or compost-able packaging, but that they should not require it.

“Making it a requirement gives me pause that we might have folks who can’t find packaging,” he said. “I’m wondering if there’s a supply chain ready to meet the demands of every single retailer.”

While Pepper was a hold out in favor of calling for reusable packaging, he did note that any requirement could hinder the legitimate market to supersede the legacy market.

“if we’re saying it’s a few cents more per unit, that gets passed on to the consumer,” he said. “Anytime you pass on any cost, it allows the black market to come in more cheaply.”

The Cannabis Control Board is in the process of finalizing its rules for applications in time for legislative approval in time for the April 1 deadline to begin accepting applications for the adult-use market.

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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...