Final Reading: Vermont cannabis growers ask Legislature to consider them farmers

Senator Irene Wrenner, D-Chittenden North, looks at a pre-rolled joint in a glass tube that former State Senator John Rodgers presented to the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday February 1 to illustrate his testimony on cannabis regulations. Photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a joint Wednesday morning. No, no, not like that.

Former state senator and former gubernatorial candidate John Rodgers brought a joint in a glass tube and presented it to the committee on Wednesday to illustrate one of the regulatory changes he’s asking lawmakers to pass this session. Rodgers sells a single joint made at his farm in the Northeast Kingdom to retailers for $5.95. Retailers then turn around and sell it for about double that, he said, reaping far more profits than he did. He would like to sell its products itself, he said, but Vermont prohibits direct sales to consumers.

Rodgers presented the committee with a printed list of 20 proposed regulatory and legal changes, including lowering fees, changing background check requirements and banning credit unions from charging a premium for banking services.

For his cannabis license, Rodgers told his former colleagues, he could do his FBI background check, and it cost him about $50. But for a state cannabis license, the Cannabis Control Board has contracted with a single private company, and it costs $500. While Rodgers acknowledges the challenges of relying on the federal government for background checks — “It would be pretty stupid to tell the FBI I grow marijuana” — he begged the state to find a cheaper option.

A handful of growers broadly agreed with Rodgers’ main arguments: They told the committee that growing cannabis should be considered agriculture. And they said Vermont’s current regulatory and financial requirements are overly onerous on small growers and are preventing ordinary, non-wealthy Vermonters from breaking into the industry.

“These guys will operate at a loss if they have to to take you out, and that’s what happened in Washington state,” Rodgers said. “Big guys threw out the little ones, and now you’ve got weeds at Walmarts.”

Classifying cannabis as agriculture would qualify growers for significant tax breaks.

“It would be great to be considered agriculture,” Adam “Tito” Gross told lawmakers. “Because let me tell you, when I have my hands in my soil or when I water my plants, it feels the same to me.”

So, how did Vermont at the end of its current regulatory system?

Starr put this question to James Pepper, the chair of the Cannabis Control Board.

Unclear, said Pepper. The bill that created this system went through at least 11 legislative committees. “What was the phrase, a camel is a horse from committee?” Pepper told lawmakers. “It’s like the ultimate camel of a bill.”

Rodgers’ farm still hasn’t turned a profit, he said. He hopes to reach that turning point in the next few weeks, but for now he’s still in the red.

“Then you’re a real farmer,” Starr said, laughing. “Anyone who is in the black is not a real farmer.”

“Senator Starr, I really hope this is a different kind of farming,” Rodgers said. “I really hope there’s actually a win.”

– Riley Robinson

From left: Sens. Bobby Starr, D-Orleans; Brian Collamore, R-Rutland; and Irene Wrenner, D-Chittenden North, listen to testimony in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger


State senators have begun discussing a sweeping bill that would do this Protect Vermont Doctors against professional repercussions for providing abortions within state lines – and cracking down on non-medical, anti-abortion organizations that lawmakers deem advertising misleading.

The bill, p.37, is in the early stages of the legislative process, having received an initial hearing before a Senate panel just Tuesday. But it’s a much-anticipated piece of legislation, many of its provisions beginning to take shape in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision last June removing nationwide abortion protections.

Page 37 discusses abortion and gender-affirming healthcare from the perspective of healthcare providers. The 24-page bill prohibits medical malpractice insurance companies from paying itinerant providers’ rates if they offer such reproductive health care in Vermont, and protects providers from professional consequences — such as suspension of their medical license — for offering those services within state lines. where it’s legal. It is also supposed to regulate so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which are non-medical institutions that advertise for pregnant women and aim to dissuade patients from abortions.

Read more here.

— Sarah Mearhoff

The Franklin County Attorney has one Letter from Brady against the county’s brand new sheriff, whose law enforcement license is also under review on a charge of assault.

Prosecutor John Lavoie provided the details about Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore during a state Legislative Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Grismore, 49, who was sworn in on Wednesday, has pleaded not guilty in state court to a misdemeanor count of simple assault. Video footage showed him kicking a handcuffed man who was in department custody in August.

Read more here.

– Tiffany Tan

Key lawmakers have proposed significant reforms to the trail District police officers Doing business in Vermont prompted by reports from multiple departments alleging everything from wrongdoing to outright crimes, including:

  • Outgoing Addison County Sheriff Peter Newton was arrested in June on charges of sexually assaulting and unlawfully detaining a woman.
  • Franklin County’s new sheriff, John Grismore, a former deputy, was accused of assaulting a man who was in his department’s custody last August. The state police are also investigating the finances of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
  • Outgoing Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt has admitted he has spent a third of the year in Tennessee since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Vermont in 2020.
  • Outgoing Caledonia County Sheriff Dean Shatney reportedly gave himself and his entire staff bonuses totaling $400,000 last September before stepping down.
  • Outgoing Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak admitted unprofessional conduct by hiring an unqualified deputy to conduct a special criminal investigation in 2020.

A bill, p.17, would end the decades-old policy of allowing sheriffs to personally pocket up to 5% of earnings from their department’s contract work — additional salaries that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars a year for this elected office .

Last week, lawmakers went a step further by introducing a constitutional amendment, Proposition 1, that would allow the legislature to set qualifications for sheriffs.

Read more here.

– Tiffany Tan


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