Nearly 100 People Apply to Be on Vermont's Cannabis Control Board | Off Message

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Nearly 100 People Apply to Be on Vermont's Cannabis Control Board

By

LUKE EASTMAN
  • Luke Eastman
Nearly 100 people have applied to be one of three representatives on Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board, a powerful entity that will implement rules and regulations and oversee licensing for the state’s nascent adult-use marijuana marketplace.

Applicant names are considered confidential under Act 164, the law passed last year that legalized recreational cannabis sales in Vermont starting in 2022. But Gov. Phil Scott’s office, which is overseeing the application process, released some demographic information about the 94 people who applied during a two-week period in December:

  • 57 identify as men and 30 as women; seven did not disclose.
  • 72 identify as white; two as Black/Hispanic; two as Native American; one as Hispanic; three as Black, Indigenous, other people of color/mixed race; and 14 did not disclose.
  • 77 applicants are from Vermont, while 17 live out of state.
“Candidates will be expected to develop a new complex regulatory system within a very tight timeframe established in the Act,” the governor’s office said in a press release when it opened the application process. “Preferred candidates will have experience in administering complex regulatory systems and the ability to manage a start-up enterprise with responsibility for licensing, compliance and enforcement.”



The governor ultimately appoints the three board members, but a seven-member Cannabis Control Board Nominating Committee first vets the applicants. By statute, two lawmakers each from the House and Senate serve on the nominating committee. They are Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais), Rep. John Gannon (D-Wilmington), Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) and Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden).

Under the law, the governor chooses three others “from the Executive Branch.” He picked Anson Tebbetts, secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; Nicholas Lopez, an attorney with the state Department of Human Resources; and Sabina Haskell, a Burlington woman who is director of public affairs at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. A former journalist who also previously worked at the Agency of Natural Resources, Haskell now serves on the state Department of Liquor and Lottery board.

That board work qualified her to serve on the nominating committee, according to Jason Maulucci, a spokesperson for Scott.

“The three individuals appointed [to] the Nominating Committee were selected because of their experience and its relation to the work of [the] Cannabis Control Board,” Maulucci said in an email. “Like many of these boards and commissions, there was not a formal application process — the appointees were identified and asked to serve because of their backgrounds.”

Haskell said someone from the governor’s administration contacted her in late November about serving on the nominating board.

“Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve held some kind of office — on the school board, or I was on the Burlington Electric Commission — and those kinds of things are really important to me,” she said. “It’s a way I give back.”

Haskell’s son, Ethan Latour, is a former top aide to Scott and was recently named deputy commissioner of the Department of Finance & Management. Asked about the family connection, Haskell said she and her son have a “firewall” and don’t talk shop.

“I am purposeful about that, because of the optics; it’s awkward,” she said. “The only time I knew something ahead of time was when he found out he was going to be deputy commissioner. And I thought that was OK, because I am his mom.”

Haskell said the committee has an organizing meeting on Monday. They’ll have their hands full, with dozens of applicants to wade through. The committee will send applicants considered “well-qualified” to the governor.

Once hired, the Cannabis Control Board members will be full-time state employees. The chair will serve three years and earn an annual salary of about $107,000. One member will serve two years and the other one year. Those members will each make about $80,400 annually. The board will hire an executive director, administrative assistant and will have a $650,000 budget during the current fiscal year.

The process for creating the board is already behind schedule. By law, Scott was supposed to have named his picks by January 8, with Senate confirmation on or before January 15; their terms were to begin on January 19. 
Instead, the vetting of applicants is only just beginning.

Sen. Pearson, the nominating committee member, said the delays were understandable, especially given the pandemic. He didn’t think the lag would have an impact on other, later dates in the process. The law, for instance, calls for the control board to recommend certain fees by April 1, and to begin making rules for cannabis establishments by June 1.



The first licensees could begin legally selling weed in May 2022 — if all goes according to plan.

“This is the beginning of what is quite a long process,” Pearson said. “Being a few weeks behind, to my mind, is not the end of the world. We can catch up. I think we have a decent structure and once the board is up and running, I’m sure they’ll take it seriously and presumably be able to make up for some of the lost time.”