October 1st Ushers in a New Era for Vermont
Hopes were high in October 2020 when the Vermont Legislature passed S.54. This bill allowed a Control Board to issue retail cannabis licenses to applicants by October 1, 2022, thus opening a recreational cannabis market in the Green Mountains. At the time of the bill’s passing, October 2022 seemed like a lifetime away–plenty of time to establish a Control Board to work out the details of opening a cannabis market. But as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, the timeline of this market got fuzzier and fuzzier.
Since the plant’s decriminalization in 2018 (aside from medical in 2004), cannabis-enthusiasts in Vermont have been eagerly awaiting the opening of a retail market. Perhaps the October 1st date laid out by the legislature was an attempt to curb impatience among Vermonters, or maybe it was completely arbitrary. Either way, there will be only a small handful of retail cannabis storefronts in Vermont open for sales by that date, many of which are owned by out of state companies.
Several factors made this opening date a near impossible feat. For starters the final version of Act 164, the guiding document for this market, was barely 100 pages long. Within those 100 pages was everything from the appointment and removal procedures for CCB members to environmental standards of cultivating and everything in between. If the entire market was a sandwich, Act 164 was barely the top bun.
Forming this Board does not happen overnight. In fact, it took four months to find qualified and properly motivated Board members (not including an Executive Director or Compliance Director which came months later) to create Board rules and issue licenses. The Board and its staff members worked tirelessly to issue the first round of licenses in the beginning of this past summer.
In a market where the sale of cannabis at a retail outlet depends entirely on a cultivator who, on the flip side, depends entirely on a retailer to sell their products, licenses had to be issued on a rolling basis. With that in mind, outdoor cultivators had to get licensed first with indoor and manufacturers next and retailers last. Despite the Board’s expedited efforts, the first round of licenses were still too behind schedule to allow the supply of cannabis to reach equilibrium with the expected demand upon rollout. The first outdoor license was issued in late May with more being approved in the following months. In a state where winter can last half the year, early summer was too late to start planting in time for October 1st. This has left licensed retailers with little-to-no outdoor product to stock their shelves.
With delays in the most basic tenets of a functioning market, it becomes clear why many social equity initiatives have been left behind as well. Included in the 102 page document, Act 164 has a statute to set up a Cannabis Business Development Fund which would serve to give out low interest loans and grants to minority owned businesses. That language was passed in October 2020 and by that same time now two years later, we know almost nothing about if any money is available or when it will become available. The shortcomings of a once highly touted Social Equity Program is a surprise to no one, but that does not mean one has to accept this outcome.
While we are so excited to welcome this day and usher in a new chapter of Vermont’s cannabis history, there is still much work that needs to be done in order to achieve a truly equitable cannabis marketplace. So go out, enjoy your first purchases on the legal market and of course, remember to shop local.
— Nick Schuermann and Ella Guinan