Local News, State News

Vermont issues first retail cannabis licenses

By Fred Thys/VTDigger

Businesses in Rutland, Middlebury and Burlington are the first in Vermont to secure licenses to sell cannabis for recreational use.

The state Cannabis Control Board on Wednesday, Sept. 14, issued retail licenses to FLORA Cannabis in Middlebury and Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland ahead of an Oct. 1 deadline (look for a story on Rutland’s Mountain Girl Cannabis in next week’s edition of the Mountain Times).

The board also permitted Ceres Med, formerly Champlain Valley Dispensary, to move from medical to recreational sales.

The businesses may start selling cannabis to adults once they pay their license fees, train employees to recognize symptoms of over-consumption and substance use disorder and obtain local licenses if their municipality has created a local control commission. Rutland and Middlebury do not have such commissions. Burlington does, and it forbids retail cannabis businesses from opening before October.

In a press release last week, the Cannabis Control Board acknowledged that it was delayed in issuing licenses, especially for outdoor cultivators, and that this would create early supply shortages.

“For a lot of these outdoor cultivators, we are really just starting to get into harvest time,” said Nellie Marvel, outreach and education manager at the Cannabis Control Board.

Dave Silberman, a co-owner of FLORA Cannabis, said his store aims for a grand opening Oct. 1. He praised the board despite the delays.

“They are doing a very difficult job under intense pressure and under the public eye,” said Silberman, an attorney who also represents clients applying for licenses.

He attributed the slow progress, in part, to the FBI refusing to let the Cannabis Control Board use its fingerprint-based background check process. As a result, he said, the board relied on a slower private vendor.

Marvel defended the vendor, who she said has turned around applicants “at a pretty good clip,” but acknowledged the process was slowed “because we don’t have the authority to run these background checks ourselves.”

Another reason for the delay, Silberman said, is that the Cannabis Control Board will not issue a license until the Division of Fire Safety has issued a certificate of occupancy.

Tito Bern, who has applied for a retail license to open a shop in Burlington, shared that concern. Bern said he cannot obtain loans until he receives a license. He predicted that it would take “a couple of years” before Vermont has a thriving adult recreational cannabis market.

Lauren Andrews, who owns Capital Cannabis in downtown Montpelier, just received a certificate of occupancy from the city, she said, and applied for her retail license Wednesday after doing “a lot of work” on the interior of the space.
“I think October 1st for anyone to open is very unrealistic,” Andrews said.
Bern agreed, predicting Oct. 1 “is going to be a big letdown day.” After five years of planning to sell cannabis, he is still hoping he can open for business Nov. 1, while Andrews hopes to open later in October, depending on how quickly she gets her license.

Bern, who owns the Bern Gallery, a head shop and glass blowing business in Burlington, said he quit blowing glass five years ago to focus on opening a retail cannabis store and obtaining a license to grow cannabis flower.
Silberman predicted openings would come in “a trickle.”

“There’s not going to be a lot of retailers ready,” he said. “There’s not a ton of ready inventory right away and so it’s going to be rocky at the start.”
Silberman said few manufacturers (the Cannabis Control Commission lists three) and only two testing facilities have been licensed. He said he is hearing from clients who are growers that they are waiting two to three weeks to get their flower tested.

As a result, he predicted that products available for sale Oct. 1 will be mostly cannabis flower, with very little manufactured product. Silberman also predicted prices will be higher initially than they will be in six months or a year.
Andrews said many of her vendors will not be ready by the time she opens. She expects to have cannabis flower, edibles, topicals and tinctures, she said, but is less sure about concentrates and vape carts.“We’re working on it,” she said.

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