The coalition, which includes the Vermont Growers Association and Justice For All Vermont, say S.54 doesn’t offer a clear path for small businesses, farmers and marginalized communities to get in on the emerging cannabis market. Instead, they say, lawmakers are opting to work initially with out-of-state retailers that operate medical marijuana facilities in Vermont.
“The concern with this rolling out is that current operators will have a chance to capture the market in a way that excludes Vermont farmers and people most harmed by cannabis prohibition to get into the market later,” said Maddie Kempner, policy director for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. “In other states similar legislation has played out so that it’s like big box stores.”
The coalition said the bill also comes up short in addressing the disproportionate impact that decades of cannabis criminalization has had on communities of color. The legal cannabis market is estimated to become a $40 billion industry by the end of this year, yet Black-owned businesses only account for 4.3 percent of the market share.
The bill would give top priority to minority or women-owned businesses that seek licenses and eventually lead to programs that provide opportunity for people who have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.
But advocates, such as Mark Hughes, executive director of Justice For All Vermont, say there needs to be more outreach. Hughes sent a letter to Gov. Phil Scott this week urging him to vetot the bill.
“S.54 fails to address in any significant way the devastating historical social and economic impact of marijuana on African Americans, the current impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry, or the disadvantages of emerging growers,” he wrote. “”In short, Black people and small farmers are not made whole and fail to economically benefit from this bill.
Hughes asked Scott to charge the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission to take a “data-driven approach” to shaping a more equitable legislation.
Scott signaled earlier this week that he believes there’s been progress made on the push for a retail cannabis market. Before final approval by lawmakers, changes to the bill included creation of a Cannabis Control Board and roadside saliva testing, which has long been a requirement for Scott’s consideration.
Geoffrey Pizzutillo of the Vermont Growers Association said the group wants Scott to veto the bill so they can work on a new one next year.
“We’re confident Scott sees the issues that Vermonters we represent see,” he said.
Kempner, of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, agrees. “It’s better to get it right than do it right now,” she said. “There’s so much opportunity for Vermont to get this right.”
If Scott vetoes the bill, the Vermont House would need 100 votes to override it. It passed with 92 votes earlier this week.