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First Local Retail Pot Shops Open

Matthew Slaughter cheerfully offers advice at the grand opening of Gram Central on Oct. 21. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Three licensed recreational cannabis retailers are on track to open by Nov. 1 and a fourth one plans to open on Nov. 6 in Washington County. During a laid-back grand opening, retail recreational pot store Gram Central opened its doors to customers Oct. 21. Located at 120 River Street, the store claims to be “Montpelier’s first cannabis dispensary.” That does not include Vermont Patients Alliance, which has been operating in Montpelier as a medical marijuana dispensary since around 2014. Vermont Patients Alliance has a sign on its door indicating the store, too, will be selling cannabis to adult recreational customers on an as-yet unknown date in the future.

This area is apparently a popular place for the marijuana sales industry. Two other locations in Montpelier, one in Barre, and one in Waterbury will be offering retail marijuana: Capital Cannabis, owned by Lauren Andrews of AroMed, and Vermont Patients Alliance, which is owned by Massachusetts-based Curaleaf, Inc., are slated to open in Montpelier, while Forbins Finest, owned by Angela Payette and Nick Mattei, is scheduled to open in Barre. Additionally, Zenbarn, the restaurant in Waterbury, has plans to begin selling cannabis beginning Nov. 6 according to a Waterbury Roundabout report. The owners are Marlena and Noah Fishman.

Gram Central was the only such store open before The Bridge’s latest copy deadline. On Oct. 21, Gram Central, also home to Vermont Security, had four customer service people behind a long glass counter and no other customers when The Bridge walked in around 4 p.m. Upon entering the store, a customer is required to present identification, such as a driver’s license. This is scanned and put into a database. The customer is then allowed to shop. 

Co-owner Jesse Harper sat down for an interview two nights earlier, on the night of Oct. 19 — around 6:30 p.m. Woodworker Jamie Joyner was still putting finishing touches on the interior structures in the display area of the store. Harper said he is excited “to be at this moment in time … in history … you know, cannabis prohibition ends. We think there is real potential for positive societal change.” He owns the store in partnership with Ben Jenkins.

Harper said cannabis has been something that binds lots of society together and is used by different people for different reasons. “Everyone’s relationship with cannabis is personal and unique.” He went on to describe the people behind the business. He met his partner, Jenkins, through a network of friends. “We both have kids,” Harper said. Jenkins had worked at the Vermont Patients Alliance but had been fired for growing “a couple of” marijuana plants in his backyard, Harper said. This firing caused distress to Jenkins’s life to the point where Harper and Jenkins applied for their cannabis application under the “social equity” empowerment program aimed at people who had been “disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition” (in the words of the Cannabis Control Board) and suffered personal harm, but the cannabis board rejected the categorization. Instead, Harper said they got the permit under the “general” category, and had to pay a $10,000 fee. 

Harper said he was also involved with the cannabis industry before opening Gram Central. He was involved in the hemp program for the last couple of years. That program is administered by the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. Additionally, Vermont Security has served the cannabis industry for 10 years, he said.

The legalization of retail cannabis sales therefore has allowed his business to come out of the shadows, although selling marijuana is still considered to be illegal by the federal government. Harper contends it is absurd that the sale of cannabis is federally illegal. Harper said he believes most people support the legalization of retail pot. Further, Harper has advocated in the Vermont Statehouse when lawmakers were framing the laws regarding legalization of retail marijuana sales. He advocated for keeping operations in the hands of small, local people rather than large corporate interests.