With no legal market, feds target retail pot sales

(WCAX)
Published: Aug. 29, 2019 at 6:04 PM EDT
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Two Burlington businesses busted after police say they were selling pot from their stores. We've been following the arrests-- one which was earlier this year, the second just a week ago.

Now, we're learning more on why the U.S. attorney brought these charges and what the factors were leading up to the arrests.

Our Dom Amato spoke with U.S. Attorney for Vermont Christina Nolan and Attorney General T.J. Donovan about the arrests and about the future of Vermont's tax-and-regulate market.

Ridin High was the latest business to get raided by police for allegedly selling cannabis.

State officials agree that what the two business owners were allegedly doing was illegal.

We wanted to know why they were targeted when Vermont is on its way to creating a tax-and-regulate market.

"We view them as serious or we wouldn't have charged them," Nolan said.

Nolan says there are many cases she would like to prosecute but her office's resources are limited. But when it came to two busts at Burlington businesses accused of dealing marijuana, there were multiple factors that led to arrests.

"They were either involved in gun activity or violence, there were indications that they were selling to young people," Nolan said. "And they were selling in areas of high commercial foot traffic and they were selling very openly."

Nolan says the owner of Ridin High is innocent until proven guilty but with two previous felony marijuana convictions and undercover officers who say they made multiple buys last year, she believes they have a strong case.

And just this week, the owner of the Good Times Gallery in Burlington pleaded guilty in federal court to drug, conspiracy and gun charges stemming from his arrest in January.

"We have created this limbo in our state regarding marijuana," said Donovan, D-Vt. Attorney General.

Donovan says legalizing marijuana without a regulated market has created a deeper black market. And he supports Nolan's decision to bring federal charges against the Burlington business owners.

"That's why we put an end to the gifting that was going, which were really sales because I was concerned about consumer protections, mostly of young people," Donovan said.

But he says Vermont needs a regulated market or he believes there will be similar cases down the line.

"It's gotta happen. We're past go on this, it's gotta get done," Donovan said.

People who WCAX News spoke with on Church Street said they weren't comfortable sharing their opinions on camera about a regulated market for cannabis in Vermont. But most of them said off camera they were in favor of one, mainly because of the potential tax benefits for the state.

Nolan hopes these recent charges send a clear message to any business thinking about dealing pot from their store.

"The message to businesses is to get out of the business," she said.

An employee at Ridin High told our Dom Amato they never sold marijuana to teens because they always asked for IDs first.