Vermont Issues First Cannabis License

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The Vermont Cannabis Control Board has issued the first license for the state’s fledgling fully legal weed market, a milestone in the work to get the industry up and running.

At its weekly meeting on Monday, the board gave Rutland Craft Cannabis, a small indoor cultivator based in Brandon, the green-light to start growing. The owner was deemed a social-equity applicant — someone from a group disadvantaged by the nation’s war on drugs, including Black or Hispanic applicants. The board is prioritizing such entrepreneurs as it reviews applications.

The registered owner of the company did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

Board chair James Pepper hailed the move as a major step in creating the marketplace after legislative delays “snowballed” and slowed down the board’s creation and work. Building the system’s legal framework, hiring staff and wading through the applications — and ensuring they are complete — has also proven time-consuming in the year-plus since Gov. Phil Scott appointed the board members.

“We really had to build this agency from the ground up,” Pepper said as he congratulated and thanked the board and its staff for the milestone.

But Pepper also acknowledged that it wasn’t time for a “victory lap.” Cannabis growers are getting anxious to plant and had expected the board to issue some licenses by the state-mandated deadline of May 1. Outdoor growers, especially, need much of the warmer months to cultivate and process their cannabis by October, when retail weed shops can open. On Monday, while some called in to congratulate the board on its progress, others encouraged members to hurry up.

“I would like a little guidance on how to move forward not having a license yet when really, it’s time to plant,” one business owner said. “I’ve invested a lot of money, and now I’m concerned that I’m not even going to be able to grow this year.”

The board said it expects to pick up the pace as the review process becomes more routine.

“I think at this time a year ago, we were still trying to get cellphones or set up a website, or I was trying to figure out how to create a website,” board member Kyle Harris said. “I don’t think people realize that all of that work was done by us, for the most part. So, big year, big moment.”

The board has also received two applications for integrated licenses, which are available only to the three out-of-state owners of Vermont’s medical cannabis dispensaries. Such licenses allow the companies to grow, wholesale, test, manufacture and sell cannabis on the recreational market, and allow them to start selling before October 1, when everyone else can open.

In an interview last week, Brynn Hare, executive director of the Cannabis Control Board, said the applicants are Vermont Patients Alliance, a dispensary in Montpelier that is owned by Curaleaf, and Slang Worldwide, the owner of Milton-based CeresMED, which has four dispensaries around the state.

As of last Friday, the dispensaries’ applications were still in preliminary review, which means they’ve been received but not assessed as to whether they’re complete. Hare said “it’s hard to estimate” when they could reach the board for consideration, in part because the corporate principals will each have to undergo background checks through a third-party vendor. Decisions are likely weeks away, Hare said.

Last week, the Vermont legislature passed S.188, which includes a provision clarifying that dispensary owners cannot be issued more than one integrated license, even if they control more than one dispensary. Lawmakers inserted the provision to limit the influence of corporate players — or “Big Pot,” as Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) described them in committee this spring.

Slang, which owns two medical licenses, told investors in March that it had the ability to open two retail stores in Vermont. The company has not indicated whether it will challenge the provision in S.188, which still needs Gov. Scott’s signature to become law.

In an April 22 update on its website, CeresMed said that it likely wouldn’t open a storefront for recreational — also known as “adult use” — cannabis until October.

Slang’s interim CEO did not immediately return a call for comment, nor did a Curaleaf spokesperson respond to an email.