US (VT): From mold to banking, grower faces many challenges

Nathan Liberty breaks off a cluster of fan leaves from one of his cannabis plants − the "solar panels," he explains, which soak up the sun's energy to power the plant's growth. One of the long, serrated leaves has turned an ugly brown, and spots of decay have spread to neighboring leaves in the cluster. "We're starting to get a touch of septoria," Liberty says.

Septoria is an aggressive form of mold that eventually kills the plant. Because Liberty's plants are being grown for biomass to be processed and concentrated into cannabis oil for edibles − and not smokable flower − Liberty will be able to grind up the affected leaves with everything else except the stalks. "Because we're processing, all that gets killed," he explains. But he will have to chip the leftover stalks and burn them in place to rid his plot of the destructive fungus.

Sweet Lou's Farm, the name of Liberty's operation, is a Tier 2 outdoor cultivator under Vermont's new regulations for legal adult-use cannabis, limited to 2,500 square feet of plants − a solid mass of green stalks, leaves, and flowers about six feet tall that will soon be ready to harvest. There are five tiers for both outdoor and indoor growers, with Tier 5 being the largest.

The truth is, septoria is perhaps the least of the challenges facing Sweet Lou's and other Vermont cannabis growers, both indoor and outdoor, according to Liberty. Vermont's nascent legal cannabis industry is confronted with a range of obstacles, including:

  • Scant supply.
  • No access to financing other than privately raised.
  • Scarce and expensive access to business banking accounts required for a state license.
  • A bottleneck for required testing, with only three labs currently open.
  • A backlog of required approvals from the state Cannabis Control Board
  • Competition from the black market.
  • Expensive security measures.
  • High overhead, thanks in part to tax laws.

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