Vermont hemp farmers voice concerns as marijuana legalization looms


Local 22 & Local 44 first reported in September that hemp farming in Vermont had grown significantly. Now, some farmers think the hemp farming industry could face big changes if its close cousin marijuana is legalized.

Coming up in January, a report commissioned by Governor Phil Scott is expected to come out with recommendations of how recreational marijuana should be regulated in the state. With talk of the report, some say the hemp conversation is changing– like Joel Bedard, the CEO of the Vermont Hemp Co.

“We’re really diverting away from the hemp conversation of grain and fiber and the cannabinoids that can be extracted from industrial hemp,” Bedard said.

Hemp and marijuana are two different plants. Bedard explained that hemp has a lower THC level than marijuana. It’s used for things like clothing and building materials. He compared it to rope and said if you try and smoke it… the only thing you will get is a headache.

Bedard has a seat at the table as conversation shifts to THC levels and how the plants will be handled by the state.

“There are schools of thought that wants to bring it all together and legalize all cannabis for whatever reasons and then there are others that want to keep hemp and recreational [marijuana] apart,” he said.

According to Bedard, the medical marijuana program is regulated through the Department of Public Safety while hemp is overseen by the Department of Agriculture. Bedard expects that the two will merge.

“There are growing pains in every conversation and this one clearly and it throws locally but also nationwide,” Bedard said.

Bedard said he isn’t worried about the merger. He thinks it could be more efficient. However, he added that other hemp farmers are concerned that the legalization of recreational marijuana could overshadow the progress hemp has made in Vermont over the last few years.

Needless to say, he said the issue remains very political.

Lt. Governor David Zuckerman said Governor Scott’s commission on marijuana legalization was created after recognizing tremendous support of cannabis reform, but he is concerned about the timeline.

Regardless, Zuckerman said he wants concerned hemp farmers to reach out to him.

“Certainly I would look forward to hearing any folks who have concerns about the hemp industry to reach out to me and others who are advocating for cannabis reform because I think we should be able to address those concerns,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman is a longtime supporter of cannabis reform.

Bedard hopes those in the Statehouse, such as Zuckerman, look to what is working for other states regarding hemp and marijuana. Bedard thinks it could reap great business opportunities in the Green Mountain State.

“I just see that we have an opportunity to create a grass roots and boutique industry here,” Bedard said.

Local 22 & Local 44 also spoke with Senator Chris Pearson who weighed in on the hemp farmers’ concerns.

“I think it’s way too early to push the panic button,” Pearson said. “In fact we’re seeing pretty significant hemp crop there’s a lot of reason to be excited about that. I have a hard time believing lawmakers would want to do anything to hurt an up-and-coming hemp industry in Vermont.”

According to the Department of Agriculture, there are nearly 560 acres of hemp farm registered in Vermont.

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