Vermont’s largest medical cannabis company sold

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 11:33 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There was a major shakeup in Vermont’s cannabis industry this week after CeresMED, the state’s largest medical marijuana company, announced it’s merging with a Canadian-based company.

The deal with SLANG Worldwide is worth $25 million. The global company will have first dibs on Vermont’s tax and regulate market when sales begin in May 2022.

But the news has smaller, local growers concerned about the future of cannabis sales. Craft and small growers we spoke to say it’s just another hurdle for them to overcome.

“We know people don’t travel for Walmarts, they travel for Hill Farmsteads, they travel for craft products, so that’s who we want to make sure are included in the marketplace as soon as possible, now knowing these three large businesses will be included in the marketplace,” said Geoffrey Pizzutillo from the Vermont Growers Association.

Pizzutillo says he has been fighting for local producers since lawmakers established the tax and regulate cannabis market. But still, medical cannabis license holders get a five-month head start on retail sales. Advocates worry the date discrepancy is a structural inequity.

“Ultimately, I think that a lot of regular citizens just want to buy something legally. But people in Vermont -- we take pride in our products. It’s a question for people in Vermont whether corporate cannabis is the first thing we want to do in that legal space,” said Eli Harrington, a cannabis consultant.

Last month, the Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness began operations under the name CeresMED. The two locations service about 70% of registered patients in Vermont. About 50 people are employed now, and the new partnership with SLANG will double that. The company will also invest in a 50,000 square-foot expansion to grow cannabis and keep up with the demand.

CeresMED is encouraging craft growers to get their licenses to cultivate when they are able to in May 2022, so they can sell the product on their shelves.

“We want to have Vermont brands right next to brands on our shelves at our retail locations and so we are going to be looking to actively support producers who align with our values and carry them in our stores,” said Bridget Conry of CeresMED.

Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board continues to chart the course for retail sales. Board chair James Pepper says there are incentives in place to help ensure market diversity.

“People really want to purchase from someone who they know grows organically, who they know does third-party testing, and that’s not necessarily true with these multistate operators. And while it comes as a little bit of a shock, there is enough room in this market for small cultivators to thrive,” he said.

While companies that hold medical cannabis licenses can begin sales next May, all other retailers won’t be able to start until October 2022. But five Vermont municipalities, including Burlington, have already passed a universal start date of October to allow for an even playing field.

It’s estimated that cannabis sales will reach up to $230 million in Vermont in 2023.

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