Vermont is now accepting license applications for retail cannabis businesses, a month earlier than planned.

“We’ve been thinking about this day for a long time,” said James Pepper, chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board..

The state is accepting applications from other cannabis-related businesses, as well, including cultivators, manufacturers and testing labs. Over 200 cannabis stores are already approved through the state’s pre-qualification process, Pepper said. About 50 of those are retail operations.

Pepper said moving up the application process gives businesses more time to prepare for October 1, when retail sales will officially begin.

“We’ve been laser focused on getting applications out the door because you can’t just rely on cannabis grown out of state to meet demand,” he said. “We need to build the supply chain in Vermont.”

The change in schedule caught some cannabis storeowners off guard.

“I was shocked – it seemed slow and they opened a month early,” said Eddy Furci, owner of Winooski Organics. “We were excited when they opened them up. It’s a major milestone in the state. Talked about decriminalization in the 80s, this is the next step in the evolution for more sensible drug policy in Vermont.”

Retail storeowners will still need to have their business approved by their local town officials. Storeowners must also reach out to their local fire departments to get certifications of occupancy.

The Cannabis Control Board will begin issuing licenses for product manufacturing and wholesales in the coming weeks and plan on officially issuing retail licenses on October 1.