Vermont farmers concerned by cannabis bill provisions

Published: Feb. 26, 2020 at 5:48 PM EST
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Vermont lawmakers are poised to take action to create a regulated cannabis market in the Green Mountains. But some of the opposition to the bill comes from local farmers who believe that the current proposal limits their opportunity to cash-in on the lucrative crop.

"We all deserve a fair playing field," said Justin Lang, a fifth generation farmer at Lang Farm in Essex Junction. The farm has a golf course, hosts weddings, offers retail space, and most recently started growing hemp. If a taxed and regulated market for marijuana becomes legal in Vermont, they have aspirations of being part of it, but it may not be possible.

"Just kind of concerned that the bill really isn't giving a fair chance for Vermont farmers and craft operators to kind of operate in the cannabis field just as much as corporate America is getting an inside foot to kind of our market," Lang said.

Right now S.54 would only allow Vermont's five registered medical cannabis providers to receive an integrated license to grow, market and sell recreational pot. Others would only be able to get a license for one aspect of the industry -- as a cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, testing lab, or retailer.

"We have a medical program which will have an initial preferred access to get this kind of kick started, and that's been justified in different ways, but you're inherently setting up a market in a specific way," said cannabis consultant Eli Harrington.

He says the bill isn't perfect but it gets something closer to the governor's desk."I think there are legitimate concerns about having a market that's fair and equitable for people to get in," Harrington said. "But there are great parts to this bill too, as far as anti-monopoly provisions and allowing vertical integration, so it's a mixed bag."

Farmer advocacy group Rural Vermont believes the House bill misses the mark by following the lead of other states and creating big business instead of small agriculture.

"We'd like to have something different in Vermont, have the actual opportunity for this to work out for our communities, for our small businesses, for the farming community and not have it become what it has become in other states," said the group's Graham Unangst-Rufenacht.

Lang agrees, and wants a market that is comparable to Vermont's craft beer industry. "We don't feel like they're giving Vermonters a fair chance to put Vermont on the map the way it should be," he said.

The bill could still undergo some minor changes, but likely not enough to address some of the farmers' major concerns. As of right now, Vermonters may be able to buy cannabis in a tax and regulated market by 2020.