By Katy Savage
Three businesses became the state’s first to get approved to sell cannabis last Wednesday, Sept. 14.
The Cannabis Control Board unanimously approved retail licenses for Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland, FLORA Cannabis in Middlebury and Champlain Valley Dispensary, Inc., CeresMED, in Burlington.
“Today’s license approvals mark a historic moment for Vermont that is decades in the making,” James Pepper, the chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board, said in a press release.
The state prioritized approving licenses for applicants from margininalized backgrounds who have been harmed by marijuana laws in the past.
Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland — owned by Josh and Ana MacDuff — fits part of that category. Ana, 35, was born in Columbia and migrated to New York City with her family as a child. She first experienced marijuana at age 17 and started using it recreationally in her 20s.
She said she’s worked to destigmatize drugs associated with her culture for most of her adult life.
“People who are from Columbia, or just the country itself, get a bad reputation for hard drugs,” she said. “It impacts your daily life.
“When we travel internationally to the country I was born and we come back, I’m targeted for additional searches and questioning that make life not as fun,” she said.
Meanwhile, Josh, 35, said he’s had a relationship with marijuana since he was 12.
Ana and Josh met as students at (what was then) Green Mountain College in Poultney in 2006 and they married when they were 19.
“It was one of the colleges known as high times — it was one of the top 10 stoner schools,” Ana said of GMC.
Josh got arrested in college for trying to sell marijuna out of his dorm room — an incident he said was later expunged from his record. Josh later became involved with selling insurance to cannabis operations.
“I learned more about it and became more passionate about destigmatizing the consumption and the label of people who consume cannabis get,” Josh said.
The state legalized possessing small amounts of marijuana in 2018. Last year, the Legislature passed a law to allow retail marijuana sales to begin on or before Oct. 1, 2022. However, there have been hold ups and delays in the process.
A public records filed by the Mountain Times in August showed 10 business had completed applications to start retail operations. Nellie Marvel, the Cannabis Control Board’s outreach and education manager, said another 65 retail applications were in draft form and not yet completed.
Local retail applications that had been completed included Somewhere on the Mountain in Rutland, Giving Tree Cannabis in Pawlet, Fire on the Mountain in Woodstock and Stone Leave Cannabis, LLC in Windsor.
“The Board recognizes that delays in initial licensure for applicants — especially Vermont’s outdoor cultivators — means not everyone will be able to fully engage with the market this year, which in turn will create early supply shortages,” the Cannabis Control Board’s Sept. 14 press release stated. “A similar dynamic has occurred in the initial rollout of each adult-use state as the supply chain develops.”
The three-person cannabis control board formed in March 2021 and is tasked with establishing rules and regulations for retailers, growers, and testing facilities, as well as issuing licenses.
“There’s a lot of outside jurisdictions,” Marvel said, explaining the tax department, fire safety, local licensing need to be involved in the approval process.
“All of these entities affect the speed in which we can issue licenses,” Marvel said.
State law says all marijuana products sold in the state have to be grown and tested in Vermont. As of August there were just two testing labs approved — one in Colchester and one in Williston.
Marvel attributed some of the delays to the process of creating a new board and a new process for issuing licenses.
“We’ve been building everything from scratch,” Marvel said. “We had to build a licensing application portal, we had to get our rules approved for this, we had to hire staff — there all of these individual delays that do add up.”
Despite the holdups, the state began issuing retail licenses sooner than the anticipated Oct. 1 deadline.
“With it being such a complex application, with so many moving parts, we saw no reason to delay opening that particular application window,” Marvel said.
Ana and Josh anticipate the delays in the state will impact the types of products they and other retailers sell.
“I think that will create a little bit of a bottleneck,” Ana said.
Josh and Ana are currently renovating their store at 174 West Street and plan to open Oct. 1. They will sell smokable and edible products in addition to clothing and complementary accessories.
“Being part of the trailblazers that are working to undo that damage (of stigmatizing drugs) is important to us,” Ana said.