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The Cannabis Issue — 2021


  • Luke Eastman | Rev. Diane Sullivan

Eleanor Abbot "contracted polio at age 36" and came up with the concept of a classic children's board game "while convalescing in the hospital polio ward in 1947 with numerous children sufferers," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last year. The paper's headline: "Another epidemic in another era gave birth to Candy Land."

Our cover this week, spawned in this COVID-19 era, is based ever so loosely on the game but is decidedly not for kids. There's no Licorice Lagoon or Peppermint Forest — just the "hazards" of a Red Tape Snarl and a Governor's Veto. The board depicts in a whimsical way the twisting path Vermont has taken toward next year's start of legalized sales of cannabis for adults.

There's a good reason for its adult orientation: marijuana can profoundly affect the developing brain, as doctors and youth drug prevention counselors told Alison Novak.

Vermont legalized medical marijuana in 2004. By 2015, discussions about legalizing use for all adults were heating up. But legislative inertia and gubernatorial disinterest (or outright dislike) of such an expansion repeatedly sent the process back to start, despite polling that increasingly showed Vermonters wanted legal weed.

The delays left Vermont standing still while other states raced to the finish line. Among them was Massachusetts, where retail shops opened in 2018. Colin Flanders visited a pot shop last week to see what all the fuss is about in the Berkshires burg of Lee.

When the pandemic struck, Vermont's legislature immediately put cannabis issues on the back burner. But during a lull in the chaos last summer, lawmakers took a shot at legalizing cannabis sales for adults. During a special budget session in September, the House and Senate passed S.54. Shortly thereafter, Gov. Phil Scott allowed the measure, Act 164, to become law without his signature.

Now the race is on to implement a bong-load of rules for the nascent cannabis industry. The players are ready.

First, lawmakers are considering several amendments to Act 164, four of which stood out to Kevin McCallum.

While the rush is on for recreational sales, medical marijuana patients wonder who will still advocate for them. Ken Picard explores the topic in this week's WTF column.

Also potentially overlooked: Vermont's hemp industry. After a hot start a few years ago, the hemp market has slumped since late 2019. As planting gets under way this spring, will hemp rebound? Anne Wallace Allen wades in.

One Starksboro biz is banking on a bounce back: vTerra Farms, a 143-acre hemp operation that produces CBD-infused products. Most intriguing, reports Picard, is vTerra's "nano-encapsulation technology," which enables the body to absorb CBD in as few as 15 minutes.

Here's another way to absorb CBD: Eat it in delicious food. Jordan Barry tries the cannabidiol-infused menu at Magic Mann café in Essex. Her verdict: "It's just good takeout."

Absorption rates are an important part of Courtney Lamdin's story on Indicator, an app created by a Saint Michael's College professor. The simple technology can measure your impairment (from cannabis, alcohol or even lack of sleep) when you play a couple of games on your smartphone.

Other Vermont innovators are getting in on the cannabis action. Will Raap, founder of Gardener's Supply in Burlington, talked to Sally Pollak about his ideas and plans for the new market.

Raap's contemporary, Ben Cohen, blazed a trail in the ice cream world when he cofounded Ben & Jerry's in 1978. Will Cohen find the same success in cannabis? He has already pledged to donate 100 percent of his profits from the sale of his line of low-THC, pre-rolled joints to advancing racial equity in the industry. Pollak has this scoop, too.

Though shops won't open for at least a year, it is legal in Vermont to grow your own stash. Wondering where to start? Longtime grower Matt Leonetti offers step-by-step instructions, from seed to consumption, that will have you harvesting by the fall.

Once you've collected that crop, get creative with the latest cookbook by Vermont author Tracey Medeiros. Melissa Pasanen recounts some highlights from the tome, speaks with Medeiros and — bonus! — includes a CBD-infused recipe for a Green Goddess Café Jamaican Me Shake.

Finally: The world of cannabis has its own lingo, so here is a glossary of sorts. The taxed and regulated retail marijuana market that Vermont has legalized is alternately referred to as the "adult-use" or "recreational" market. We use both terms in this issue.

You'll also see mentions of THC and CBD, acronyms you've probably heard before. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis (that gets you high); cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound extracted from hemp plants that is thought to have healthful effects on the mind and body.

The word "cannabis" itself refers to the plant that produces both hemp and its THC-bearing cousin, marijuana. We use "cannabis" interchangeably to refer to both. The context should make the meaning clear.

Got it? Good. Now relax, settle into a sunny spot and start reading.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Weed All About It: Welcome to the Cannabis Issue"