Business & Economy

Cannabis Control Board votes against favoring economic opportunity zones for licenses

The Cannabis Control Board James Pepper (left), Julie Hulburd (center) and Kyle Harris.

The Vermont Cannabis Control Board is recommending against prioritizing low-income neighborhoods when the state issues licenses for shops to sell retail marijuana. 

The board voted Friday to eliminate “economic opportunity zones” when considering whether an applicant for a marijuana-selling license should be considered as a social equity candidate.

Marijuana retail shops can open in Vermont as soon as October 2022.

The board, which is set to regulate the state’s new marijuana marketplace, is considering equity in who gets licenses to sell and is defining what that means. Social equity candidates would receive loans or grants to open up marijuana businesses. 

Vermont’s economic opportunity zones, which are set by the governor, are designed to increase private investment in low-income neighborhoods. 

Cannabis board members expressed concern that people would move into those zones just to apply for licenses, which would defeat the purpose of helping communities that have been injured by past criminalization of marijuana. 

“There’s room there for people to take advantage in the wrong way of what we’re trying to accomplish,” board member Kyle Harris said.

Paul Shannon, a member of the public who attended Friday’s hearing, said he lives in an economic opportunity zone and agrees with Harris.

“It would be one of those places that people would want to squeeze into,” Shannon said. 

The board is recommending that applicants who seek qualification as social equity candidates meet one of two criteria: 

  1. That they are Black, Indigenous or people of color, or from a community disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition.
  2. That they or someone in their family have been arrested, convicted or imprisoned for a cannabis-related offense. 

The board left out small farmers from the social equity program, but Chair James Pepper promised that they would receive special consideration.

“We do want to support small Vermont cultivators,” Pepper said. 

The board also proposed a schedule of license fees that range from $750 to grow marijuana outdoors on less than 1,000 square feet all the way to $125,000 for an integrated growing and manufacturing operation.

The recommendations are subject to approval by the Legislature, which must first hold hearings. 

Pepper said that, in the next few months, the board members would talk to people in communities disproportionately affected by past criminalization of marijuana to find out what they got right in the recommendations and what they missed.

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Fred Thys

About Fred

Fred Thys covers business and the economy for VTDigger. He is originally from Bethesda, Maryland, and graduated from Williams College with a degree in political science. He is the recipient of the Radio, Television, and Digital News Association's Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting and for Enterprise Reporting. Fred has worked at The Journal of Commerce, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News, and WBUR, and has written for Le Matin, The Dallas Morning News, and The American Homefront Project.

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