Vermont is in the process of rolling out the retail cannabis market, but no nonmedical licenses have yet been issued, the state cannabis board chairman said Monday.

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MONTPELIER — As it works on hiring staff, the Vermont Cannabis Control Board missed a deadline of May 1 for the start to issuing licenses. 

"We have not issued any licenses yet," board Chairman James Pepper said in an interview Monday. "We prequalified roughly 80 people." 

Legislation pertaining to the rollout of retail cannabis sales in Vermont created several different deadlines. The May 1 deadline involves issuing licenses for small cultivators, testing facilities and integrated licensees, which allow medical dispensaries to enter the market first. 

As of Monday afternoon, none had been issued. 

"This is due to the fact that we don't have a licensing staff here at the board," Pepper said. "We don't have our compliance team in place. We thought it would be prudent to have those in place before we start issuing those licenses."

The board isn't having difficulties finding job applicants. "We had an overwhelming response," Pepper said. 

Pepper said a delay in seating the board resulted in delays down the line. The Legislature passed a bill, including funding for staffing, later in the year than initially anticipated. Then the board had to work with human resources to create the positions, which need to be advertising for a certain number of days before hires can happen. 

"The table is set now," Pepper said. "We're ready to issue licenses. We essentially just need bodies to review the applications." 

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As soon as a license is granted, a cannabis operation can begin. 

Asked if the state is on track to meet the October timeline for having retail cannabis sales up and running for nondispensary operators, Pepper said, "I would hate to look too far ahead, because there are just so many aspects to what we are doing that involve so many different players." He cited fire safety and municipal permitting as examples of other regulatory agencies that also are part of the equation. 

"It's hard to say, by Oct. 1, everything will be fine," Pepper said. "But from the board's perspective, we don't feel this early delay will affect our ability to qualify applications for retail on Oct. 1."

Pepper said it's good to hear local projects are beginning to come before towns' development review boards. 

"This is new for the most part," he said. "Our advice to the industry is to engage with your town early and start having these conversations, because they might not know exactly how to deal with you right away."

Scott Sparks, owner of Vermont Hempicurean and Vermont Grow Barn in West Brattleboro, said he really wants to open Oct. 1.  

"I have waited long enough," he said in an email response to the Reformer. "That being said, I know they are trying. I am hoping for the best. It is very frustrating, though, as Vermont should have been one of the first, not one of the last. With the exception of New Hampshire, we are lagging behind other surrounding states, which is too bad."

Vermont cleared medical marijuana for use in 2004. Criminal penalties for adult use and possession of up to an ounce of cannabis were eliminated in the Green Mountain State in 2018. Residents can also possess up to five grams of hashish, and two mature and four immature marijuana plants.


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