Vermont cannabis growers ask Legislature to consider them farmers

Former state senator and one-time gubernatorial candidate John Rodgers brought a joint in a glass tube and presented it to the committee Wednesday, to illustrate one of the regulatory changes he is urging lawmakers to enact this session. Rodgers sells a single joint, produced on his Northeast Kingdom farm, to retailers for $5.95. Retailers then turn around and sell it for roughly double that, he said, reaping far more profit than he does. He would love to sell his products himself, he said, but Vermont bans direct-to-consumer sales. 

Rodgers presented the committee with a printed-out list of 20 proposed regulatory and statutory changes that include lowering fees, changing the background check requirement, and banning credit unions from charging a premium for banking services. 

For his hemp license, Rodgers told his former colleagues, he could do his background check through the FBI, 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 acknowledged the challenges in leaning on the federal government for background checks — “It would be pretty dumb to say ‘I’m growing pot’ to the FBI” — he implored the state to find a cheaper option. 

A handful of growers largely echoed Rodgers’ top-line arguments: They told the committee that cannabis cultivation should be considered agriculture. And they said Vermont’s current regulatory and financial requirements are overly burdensome on small growers, preventing regular, not-rich Vermonters from breaking into the industry. 

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