The Vermont Cannabis Control Board met in person and online on November 12, 2021. From left Julie Hulburd, James Pepper, and Kyle Harris.

The latest round of social equity recommendations from Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board will face the public this week in a series of hearings on Nov. 18 and 20.

“We should be looking at all of our decisions through a lens of social equity,” said board chair James Pepper during the Nov. 12 meeting of the CCB. “If not, our own implicit biases will push us back to business as usual.”

Advocates say some of those social equity measures do not go far enough.

“We continue to seek the introduction of a more substantive and appropriate approach that accounts for the impact of systemic racism across the entire market and beyond,” wrote Mark Hughes of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance in a press statement. “We have also strongly urged the CCB to integrate equity into their operational processes to ensure the creation of a sustainable and equitable market from the onset.”

Social equity candidates must account for at least 51% ownership of the company, and they must be involved in daily operations.

Social equity licenses have a reduced fee cycle with an incrementally-reduced annual discount for the first five years. After that five-year period, licenses can be transferred to non-equity owners without any penalty. A transfer within the first five years to a non-equity applicant would require repayment of any previous discounts.

Transfers to a new social equity applicant would require the new owner to resume the discounted fee schedule instead of starting the five-year process all over again.

The Board recommended that social equity applications must live in a designated opportunity zone, be a person of color, have been previously convicted of a cannabis-related offense, or have a family member that has been arrested for cannabis. Applicants must meet at least one of those criteria.

They must also be a resident of the state at the time of the application, but do not have to have previously lived in Vermont.

Licenses for delivery and possibly for co-ops would be initially exclusive for social equity applicants, though the board has yet to determine a fixed timeline for that exclusivity.

Pepper said he was not sure it would be necessary to create a license for co-ops, which would make it difficult to exclude non-social equity applicants.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but it does seem to me that unless we explicitly prohibit co-ops, then they could form naturally as long as every member has a license or is an employee of a licensee,” he said.

The board’s advisory committee recommended the creation of a 15-person social equity board that would oversee funding for the state’s social equity education programs, community outreach and education, while also having a role in approving social equity applicants.

Pepper said he agreed with the need for continued oversight on social equity issues, he said that he was not sure that it would be necessary.

“I think having a board that supports the social equity pieces is important, for me, I would rather look at how we comprised our advisory committees,” he said. “I think it’s hard to find folks who volunteer for boards like this. I think it would be better if we could leverage the use of our advisory committee instead.”  

The first CCB social equity town hall will be held in Winooski, Vermont on Nov. 18, while the second will be in Bennington on Nov. 20.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance will hold its own online forum on social equity in cannabis on November 16 at 4:20 p.m.

“As we have said before, the cannabis market is the first market to be created in Vermont since the acknowledgment of the existence of and the commitment to eradicate systemic racism,” said Hughes. “It is imperative that historical and ongoing economic oppression and exploitation of Black Americans be considered in every aspect of the development, rollout and regulation of this 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...