Amy Bacon was afforded two honors at the opening of Ceres Collaborative dispensary in downtown Burlington on Saturday — the first day cannabis could be sold at retail stores in Vermont.
Bacon, the company’s production manager and its longest-tenured employee, got to open the doors to its College Street store promptly at 10 a.m. and then become its first official customer.
By then, a long line of customers had formed, extending through an alley to a parking lot near the Center Street bar Daily Planet.
After years of buildup, chief operating officer Russ Todia stood outside the store and shouted to the crowd, “Let’s open these doors!” As customers cheered, Bacon complied with a beaming smile. A few minutes later she reemerged with a small paper bag.
“We’ve worked toward this day for a long time,” Bacon said. “It’s just an incredible feeling.”
Opening day came nearly two years after state lawmakers signed off on retail cannabis sales — and more than four years after they OKed personal cultivation and possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The state Cannabis Control Board, which regulates the industry in Vermont, had been working to clear a backlog of license requests in the weeks leading up to Oct. 1. Including Ceres, a total of four stores were licensed by the state to open Saturday: Mountain Girl in Rutland, FLORA in Middlebury and Bud Barn in Brattleboro, though Bud Barn’s owners said they likely would not open for a few more weeks.
In Burlington on Saturday, Ceres’ storefront was decorated with banners and balloons. A man filmed the first 20 people to enter the store for promotional use by the company.
The first member of the public in line was Bryan Menard of Burlington, who said he arrived around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“I should have said 4:20,” Menard joked.
An hour before opening, Menard waited outside the door with about five others, none of whom wanted to be identified other than Menard. By the time Bacon opened the front door, more than 100 people stood in line.
Just a few days earlier, even those in charge of the company had their doubts about whether it would all come together.
“As of Monday, I would have guessed there’s a 20% chance we would have been open on Saturday,” Todia said.
The final weeks and days prior to opening were filled with new hurdles, he said, including wondering whether Burlington had communicated to the state that it had approved Ceres’ license. “We didn’t have any of that information until the end of this week. So it’s been kind of a mad dash.”
Bacon, who Todia described as the company’s “head chef,” credited a team of employees with making it happen.
“The team has been working around the clock to get product lab-tested, into packages, making extracts, making gummies,” Bacon said. “It’s been a lot of work.”
According to Todia, everyone involved in establishing Vermont’s cannabis marketplace has had to learn the rules on the go due to its “fluid” regulation.
“I think every prospective operator in this industry has felt those twists and turns throughout this process and many are still feeling it,” Todia said.
Ceres did brisk business throughout the morning. Buyers who managed to make it to the front of the line reported a 30- to 40-minute wait.
Nicholas Mark of Milton stood near the back of the long line near Daily Planet when he spoke with VTDigger.
“It’s just nice to have the convenience of going into a store and buy product,” Mark said.
Another man ahead of Mark in the line, Ron Sexton, said he used cannabis to relieve pain associated with a degenerative disk disease. Sexton, who uses a cane, said cannabis “really makes a difference.”
Many other customers in line, while enthusiastic, resisted the idea of speaking with reporters.
By early afternoon, the line had shortened somewhat. Two security guards coordinated how many could enter the store at a time. Todia greeted customers near the front while employees helped customers at counters, tables and display cases around the store.
Todia said that while his team had the Oct. 1 date in mind for years, determining whether the date was attainable was another matter given how many factors were out of their control. Ceres submitted its license application in April or May, he said, but the state hadn’t begun reviewing its license until September. In the end, though, it all worked out.
“As a state, we did it. We opened on October 1st,” Todia said. “There's certainly more to come — more great retailers, more options for people will come over the next weeks and months, but we're just happy that we're able to sell today.”
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