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A Cure for Economic Woes and Addiction? A Boon for Agriculture? Or a Cause for Pause?

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Reports: Dispensaries Could be First in Line for Retail Sales   

by Carla Occaso

STATEWIDE — Can it close our budget gap? Alleviate opiate addiction? Increase tourism? Create a whole new cooperative ‘artisanal cannabis’ and/or agricultural economy? That’s what they’re talking about concerning regulated recreational marijuana legalization in some State House reports and live testimony. And just who is offering expertise to go forward?

“We are looking at a 10 to 15 percent increase in tourism,” predicted Bill Lofy, a member of the Vermont Cannabis Collective, in his spoken testimony to the Senate Government Operations Committee during pre-session testimony November 3. “If cannabis is legalized, we want this industry to reflect Vermont values … We want Vermonters from all walks of life and all income levels to participate … We see ways to create great jobs — good, long term jobs that won’t go away … We see a market open to any Vermonter who wants to participate. We see an opportunity to be the national leader in cannabis genetics and medical research.” Lofy also said that cannabis has been seen as a way to alleviate and pay for treatment of addiction.

Lofy explained his organization, invited experts from other states where marijuana is legal and held public forums all over the state. “We see Vermont as a center for cannabis excellence.”

Lofy has previously worked as chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin during his first two years, then for the Democratic Governors’ Association and then for a brief stint at Green Mountain Power before becoming a member of the Vermont Cannabis Collective, according to media reports and from his website, Lofy Strategies, dedicated to “business strategy, political advising and writing.” Lofy and his collaborative’s “steering committee” — made up mostly of well-known entrepreneurs — have declared on their website a dedication to “advancing our guiding principles to be embedded in new legislation which will help define a new, systematic approach in Vermont’s cannabis economy.” Steering committee members include Lofy and former state senator Hinda Miller, Jogbra co-founder; Judy McIsaac Robertson, co-founder of Highland Sugarworks; Will Raap, Gardener’s Supply Founder; Alan Newman, founder of Magic Hat and Seventh Generation; Rob Williams PhD, a “Vermont-based historian, journalist, musician, and professor of media/communications and environmental history/global studies,” according to the UVM website; and Michael Jager, founder and creative officer of Solidarity of Unbridled Labor — a Burlington-based advertising/branding/design firm (http://solidarityofunbridledlabour.com/).

Lofy went on to advise, “A third area, where we urge lawmakers to focus attention, is genetics research. Genetics research is the process of creating highly specialized strains of cannabis that can treat specific medical conditions or create new products for the adult use market. These strains — and specifically, their seeds — can be highly valuable, but they require extensive experimentation and trial and error to produce. The University of Colorado in Boulder just opened a lab dedicated to genetics research, and a reporter described it as ‘having the feel of a startup.’ We should be creating those types of labs in Vermont. It’s good for science, good for medicine, good for our economy and creates the kinds of innovation and entrepreneurial jobs that will keep young people in Vermont.”

Also testifying that day were other cannabis consulting organizations, medical marijuana patient Francis Janik and several other interested parties who were either invited or asked to be involved, including a Marlboro College class interested in addiction studies. Julie Tessler of the Vermont Council of Developmental and Mental Health Services said her organization did not take a position either way on the legalization of marijuana, but that if it is legalized, and “if revenues are generated, it would be an important opportunity to invest in the full continuum of mental health and substance use disorder prevention.”

Chairing that committee was Sen. Jeannette White, D- Windham while vice chair was Sen. Anthony Pollina, D/P- Washington County. Also on the committee are Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison; Joe Benning, R-Caledonia-Orange and Brian Collamore, R-Rutland.

The senate bill, S.95 was introduced by David Zuckerman in a previous session. The administration commissioned the Rand Commission to study the impact of Legalization on Vermont, White explained November 3. The Government Operations committee studied the issue throughout the year. “We felt it was easier to have the discussion of ‘should it or shouldn’t it’” be legalized if we knew what “it” would look like, White said. Those people who were against legalization, were helpful in saying, “if you are going to to it, these are the parameters,” so the committee put together a framework known as the “Cole Memo,” which provides guidance about who would be allowed to get it (those over 21), revenue, marijuana going out of state, violence and use of firearms, drugged driving, growing marijuana on public lands and possession and use of marijuana.

There are still many unanswered questions, like, who gets to sell it? How much can people buy and sell at a time? Where can it be consumed? How do you test for people driving under the influence? How would taxation work? Who would get the pot jobs?

In adding guidance on this small point, on page 165 of the Rand report, in a footnote regarding taxes, it says, “to boost job creation, the legislature could allow deductions for salaries of retail personnel—though such an allowance might shift marketing efforts into the hiring of attractive and persuasive salespeople who would boost consumption.”

In any case, one aspect of the overall discussion that might interest Montpelier residents specifically, is that preference for licensing retailers, cultivators and distributors would be given to existing state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries. Montpelier has one in operation by Vermont Patients Alliance that currently cultivates and sells marijuana and manufactures marijuana products for registered patients with specific medical conditions. In addition, they offer consultation on entrepreneurial ventures, financial management, cultivation techniques, regulatory compliance, legal issues and “dispensary management, point-of-sale, packaging, and labeling.” So Montpelier residents are poised to be in the epicenter of the new marijuana economy should the Legislature move forward on it.

The next step for S.95 starts with Legislative Counsel offering a history of the regulation of cannabis in Vermont on Friday, January 8 in the Senate Committee on Judiciary. http://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/agenda/2016/2355.

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