What does a recreational cannabis market mean for me? We break down the Vermont law

Vermont will soon have a regulated, recreational marijuana market.

What does that mean for folks who want to get into the emerging industry, partake in openly buying cannabis products, or want to know how their community will be impacted?

We break down the bill, answering pressing questions.

I am interested in purchasing cannabis in Vermont

When will I be able to start buying cannabis products? 

Cannabis retail establishments will start receiving licenses to operate Oct. 1, 2022.

How much can I buy and what can I buy?

In the bill, cannabis product is defined as “concentrated cannabis and a product that is composed of cannabis and other ingredients and is intended for use or consumption, including an edible product, ointment, and tincture.” Cannabis vaping products are included. 

There was not a stipulation in the bill as to how much cannabis product a consumer could purchase, however, the law currently allows for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis or five grams of hashish.

Will I be able to smoke in public?

No, you will not be able to consume cannabis in a public place, which includes “any street, alley, park, sidewalk, public building other than individual dwellings, any place of public accommodation,” or any place where the use or possession of a tobacco product is illegal, unless specifically authorized by law.

Can police pull me over and test for impairment like alcohol?

Yes, law enforcement could pull you over for suspected driving under the influence of a drug and may ask you to submit a breath, saliva or blood test sample. The person has 30 minutes to consult with a lawyer before deciding to submit to a test.

The new legal cannabis sales law in Vermont recognizes several ways police can detect drug impairment in drivers.

A person pulled over who has a previous DUI conviction or is in a collision causing severe bodily harm or death could be charged with criminal refusal if they do not submit to a test. In the case of a serious vehicle accident, a search warrant could be issued to obtain a blood sample.

  • Breath tests could be performed roadside by law enforcement.
  • Saliva tests would be collected by a “person authorized by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council” not at roadside.
  • Blood tests could only be performed by a medical professional not at roadside. There could be a charge of up to $75 for the service.

Can I sell cannabis to my friend without getting a retailer’s license?

A person would be able to sell one ounce or less of cannabis, or five grams or less of hashish, providing both people were 21 or older and the the sale was not advertised or promoted to the public.

Austin Sachs, team lead of extractions and refining lab at CVD, Inc. in Milton, Vt., explains how marijuana is processed during a tour for new employees on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The facility grows and processes marijuana for medical use.

If I currently use medical marijuana, will there be any difference between buying it at a medical dispensary or retail store?

Medical dispensaries would be allowed considerations not available to retail sales.

  • Different offerings: Medical-specific products, larger quantities and higher potency of THC could be sold.
  • Procurement: Purchase and pick up without leaving a vehicle would be available to patients.
  • Cost/Taxes: Medical cannabis products would be tax-free.

Those with qualifying medical conditions would need to register with the Vermont Cannabis Registry and obtain a registration card, which would be renewed annually.

I want to start a cannabis business

Who is in charge of regulating recreational cannabis? 

The Cannabis Control Board would be established as an independent regulatory authority. It would create recreational cannabis rules, issue licenses and oversee enforcement and the compliance of cannabis establishments. The Cannabis Control Board would be funded by and manage the Cannabis Regulation Fund, which would collect license, application and renewal fees as well as civil penalties. Funding worth $650,000 would be appropriated from the Cannabis Control Fund for the board for the 2021 fiscal year.

Cannabis flower grown by Nurse Grown Organics

Medical cannabis dispensaries and registries would also be governed by the Cannabis Control Board.

The governor would appoint a chair and two members to sit on the board and serve three-year terms. The board members would be full-time state employees, and none of them could have an affiliation with a cannabis business or a close family member living with them with a cannabis business that would be subject to the supervision or regulation of the board while serving in that capacity.

The board would appoint:

  • An executive director, an attorney with experience in legislative or regulatory matters who serves as secretary to the board (non-voting), employs staff to carry out board functions and prepares an annual budget, 
  • A consultant (as needed),
  • And an administrative assistant.

An advisory committee of 12 members, would be established within the Board. Each member would have a specific knowledge base and be appointed by State officials and legislative committees.

A person who disagrees with a Cannabis Control Board decision would file a notice of appeal with the executive director.

What kind of license do I need?

Six types of licenses would be available:

  • Cultivator (applications accepted May 1, 2022; issued June 1, 2022) or small cultivator (applications accepted April 1, 2022; issued May 1, 2022)
  • Product manufacturer (applications accepted July 1, 2022; issued Aug. 1, 2022)
  • Wholesaler (applications accepted July 1, 2022; issued Aug. 15, 2022)
  • Retailer (applications accepted Sept. 1, 2022; issued Oct. 1, 2022)
  • Testing laboratory (applications accepted April 1, 2022; issued May 1, 2022)
  • Integrated (applications accepted April 1, 2022; issued May 1, 2022)

A person or business would only obtain one type of each license and have only one location for each. Licenses last one year and can be renewed annually. 

Cultivator licenses would be tiered according to plant canopy size.

Dispensaries could obtain one integrated license (combination of the other five types), or have as many as one of each of the other types of licenses.

What would be the qualifications to receive a license?

Natural persons 21 years of age or older must consent to a criminal and administrative background check as well as submit an operating plan. Other individuals with control in the business would be subject to a criminal and administrative background check. 

Priority would be given to those who meet certain criteria: those who have an existing medical dispensary in good standing; minority or women-owned business; those with plans to “recruit, hire, and implement a development ladder for minorities, women, or individuals who have historically been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition”; those with plans to pay a living wage and benefits; businesses focused on environmental sustainability or energy efficiency; and those with a favorable location based on market needs.

What would I need to do to keep my license?

The licensee would need to complete an enforcement seminar conducted by the Board every three years and each employee would need to complete a training approved by the Board once hired and then every two years.

Their cannabis establishment identification card would also need to be renewed each year.

A look inside one of the fully-functioning grow pods at CVD, Inc. in Milton, Vt., on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The hydroponic-equipped steel structures grow the facility's medical marijuana and house grow lights, irrigation and ventilation systems for quick growth.

What if I want a small business I can grow on my farm, not a large dispensary? Do the same rules apply?

No, some rules would be different.

Small cultivator licenses, those with a growing space of less than 1,000 square feet, would be given priority over larger operations and their unique needs would be considered when the board adopts rules and regulations.

A cultivator can “cultivate, process, package, label, transport, test, and sell cannabis to a licensed wholesaler, product manufacturer, retailer, integrated licensee, and dispensary.” It is responsible for packaging the product including a label containing name and registration of cultivator, strain and variety of cannabis, potency of THC or CBD in total  milligrams and per serving, “produced on” date and appropriate warning language as determined by the Board.

“Upon licensing, a small cultivator may sell cannabis to a licensed dispensary at any time, for sale to patients and caregivers pursuant to the dispensary license or to the public pursuant to an integrated license, including the time period before retail sales are permitted for licensed cannabis retailers.”

Growing marijuana would not be considered “farming” or subject to agricultural regulation, however, growers would need to comply to some agricultural practices including restrictions, operating standards, groundwater quality and drainage impact. 

What would be the product restrictions?

Prohibited products include:

  • Cannabis flower with more than 30% THC,
  • Solid concentrate products with more than 60% THC,
  • Oil cannabis products (except those prepackaged for use with battery powered devices),
  • Flavored oil cannabis (including vape pens), 
  • Any cannabis flower containing flavor that is not naturally occurring,
  • Products containing both THC and nicotine or THC and alcohol,
  • And any product designed to appeal to those under age 21. 

What are the testing requirements?

The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets will establish a quality control program to develop potency and contaminant testing protocols. This would include verifying label information as well as testing for pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, mycotoxins and bacterial or fungal contaminants.

If I want to start a cannabis-related business like a consumption lounge, what are the requirements?

Initially, businesses where cannabis would be consumed on the premises would not be allowed, however, the Cannabis Control Board is supposed to study and consider adding additional licenses including a craft cooperative license, delivery license and a special event license.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, reads literature about the history of cannabis before the Senate voted to legalize marijuana at the statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday, January 10, 2018.

If I have a marijuana possession charge on my record, can I get a cannabis establishment license?

Criminal background checks would be conducted on anyone requesting a license, but applicants would be evaluated on whether they presently pose a threat to public safety or the functioning of the market. “Nonviolent drug offenses shall not automatically disqualify an applicant.”

How a recreational cannabis market impacts my community

How much tax will be added to the cost of sales and where will that money go?

Two types of tax would be applied to cannabis sales:

  • Sales and use tax: 6%
  • Excise tax: 14% of the sales price

Taxes would be paid by the purchaser to the retailer and the separate taxes would be itemized on the buyer’s receipt. Retailers and integrated licensees would need to obtain a cannabis retail tax license from the Commissioner of Taxes and display it prominently. 

Thirty percent of money raised from the cannabis excise tax would go to the Substance Misuse Prevention Fund to provide substance abuse prevention and programming; 70% would go to the state General Fund.

The sales and use tax would go to “fund a grant program to start or expand afterschool and summer learning programs, with a focus on increasing access in underserved areas of the State.”

Can my town decide they don’t want cannabis businesses located there?

A municipality would have to affirmatively permit a cannabis retailer by majority vote of town voters present at a meeting that had been announced for that purpose.

A municipality could establish a cannabis control commission to issue local control licenses, but could not prohibit a cannabis establishment through city/town ordinance or bylaw or condition the operation of the business or its permit renewal. However, a subsequent majority vote at an annual or special meeting could rescind the license.

How will groups traditionally targeted by the War on Drugs be treated?

In order to foster social justice and equity, priority for licenses would be given to minority or women-owned businesses as well as those who “propose specific plans to recruit, hire, and implement a development ladder for minorities, women, or individuals who have historically been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.”

On the 12-member Advisory Committee reporting to the Cannabis Control Board would be three members with expertise in justice and racial issues: “one member with an expertise in systemic social justice and equity issues appointed by the Speaker of the House”; “one member with an expertise in women and minority-owned business ownership appointed by the Speaker of the House” and “one member with an expertise in criminal justice reform appointed by the Attorney General.”

The Cannabis Control Board will adopt policies and procedures for outreach and promotion of cannabis market participation by diverse groups as well as report to the Legislature a summary of its work with the Director of Racial Equity to develop programs focused on providing economic opportunities to individuals who historically have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.  

How would youth exposure be limited?

  • Cannabis establishments could not sell to, employ or allow in anyone under 21 (except in the case of a medical dispensary within a recreational one).
  • Advertising could not target a youth market 
  • The state will prohibit cannabis products and packaging designed to appeal to those under 21.
  • Child-resistant packaging will be required.
  • The new market will prohibit flavored oil cannabis (including vape pens) and any cannabis flower containing flavor that is not naturally occurring. 

Additional coverage:

Contact April Barton at abarton@freepressmedia.com or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.

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