- Matt Weiner | Rev. Diane Sullivan
It's finally here. Vermonters have waited years — hell, decades — for the state's regulated, adult-use cannabis market, which is scheduled to "open" on Saturday, October 1. By the time you read this, sales may have already begun.
But the opening will not be as grand as once hoped. Industry-wide delays in licensing, growing and manufacturing mean the rollout will be slow and methodical over weeks or even months. Outdoor growers are only now preparing to harvest their crops, so retailers are expecting that consumer demand will far exceed supply.
To be fair, it's pretty amazing that Vermont has even reached this point. The state law legalizing weed sales was enacted in October 2020, and the legislature tasked a newly created Cannabis Control Board with creating the entire system. Gov. Phil Scott appointed the three board members in late March 2021, giving them about a year to create guidance, fees, rules and other regulations before the first licenses were issued.
A minor kink can throw a lot of things off. Take the recent bottleneck at Bia Diagnostics, one of only two labs licensed to test cannabis products in Vermont. Earlier this month, a machine that detects pesticides broke down, and it took about a week to repair, co-owner Robin Grace said. That delayed some results, which are needed before a product can be sold. The Colchester company is currently promising a 10-day turnaround for new samples. That could change as more outdoor growers harvest their crops during the busy month of October.
"We are running as fast as we can," Grace said.
As of this writing, the state has approved only a handful of stores to sell cannabis, though more licenses are in the pipeline. Early on, retailers expect to have a limited quantity and variety of products because of supply chain issues and multiple delays in the licensing and testing processes.
Staffing those stores: Trained "budtenders" who will help customers navigate the various wares. Ken Picard visited a class to find out just what these students of cannabis are learning.
In Rutland, the owners of Mountain Girl Cannabis plan to open on October 1, but they'll offer just flower and pre-rolled joints to start. Dan Bolles got a behind-the-scenes look at the shop, which was still under construction when he visited.
Middlebury retailer FLORA Cannabis, too, will only have cannabis flower for sale on Saturday, "given how late in the game manufacturers were licensed and how backed up the testing lab is," co-owner Dave Silberman said. He's planning a ribbon-cutting to celebrate his store's grand opening.
A third retailer, Ceres Collaborative in Burlington, was pretty confident — but not certain — it would open on October 1. The company got approval for its shop on College Street but was still waiting for the state to actually issue its license, chief operating officer Russ Todia said.
"We're waiting on printing some labels until we know what that license number is," Todia said.
Todia and crew will likely have some intense competition in Burlington, Vermont's most populous city. Anticipating that, the city council created its own cannabis control commission, which will review applications for all who want to operate locally. Burlington is one of nearly two dozen municipalities that have added an extra layer of oversight; Chelsea Edgar examined what the additional red tape means for cannapreneurs.
And don't forget about the state regulations. Every weed biz in Vermont can expect a visit from a cannabis compliance agent, whose job it is to ensure that operators know the rules. Colin Flanders spent a day in the field with the weed industry's version of law enforcement.
One regulation in particular is vexing growers and retailers. Vermont has banned plastic packaging for cannabis products, meaning operators are scrambling for alternatives. Kevin McCallum explored the repercussions.
Manufacturers of weed-infused food, candy and even drinks will need to figure out how they'll package their goodies. Jordan Barry caught up with four cannapreneurs who have high hopes for the edible — and drinkable — market.
But before it gets to a store shelf, that cannabis product takes a meandering, monthslong journey. Gabrielle Tinnirello sketched out the trip from seed to sale.
In the end, every product will compete to stand out. Picard profiles the brains behind CannaPlanners, a Burlington-based digital marketing firm that wants to become "the Dealer.com of the cannabis industry."
There'll be more to come as Vermont's cannabis industry grows and expands; we'll keep you up to date on the latest.
But for now, here's a taste of the future.