The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a joint around the table Wednesday morning. No, no, not like that.
Former state senator and one-time gubernatorial candidate John Rodgers brought a joint in a glass tube and presented it to the committee Wednesday, to illustrate one of the regulatory changes he is urging lawmakers to enact this session. Rodgers sells a single joint, produced on his Northeast Kingdom farm, to retailers for $5.95. Retailers then turn around and sell it for roughly double that, he said, reaping far more profit than he does. He would love to sell his products himself, he said, but Vermont bans direct-to-consumer sales.
Rodgers presented the committee with a printed-out list of 20 proposed regulatory and statutory changes that include lowering fees, changing the background check requirement and banning credit unions from charging a premium for banking services.
For his hemp license, Rodgers told his former colleagues, he could do his background check through the FBI, and it cost him about $50. But for a state cannabis license, the Cannabis Control Board has contracted with a single private company, and it costs $500. While Rodgers acknowledged the challenges in leaning on the federal government for background checks — “It would be pretty dumb to say ‘I’m growing pot’ to the FBI” — he implored the state to find a cheaper option.
A handful of growers largely echoed Rodgers’ top-line arguments: They told the committee that cannabis cultivation should be considered agriculture. And they said Vermont’s current regulatory and financial requirements are overly burdensome on small growers, preventing regular, not-rich Vermonters from breaking into the industry.
“Those guys, they’ll operate at a loss if they have to, to put you out, and that’s what’s happened in Washington state,” Rodgers said. “Big ones put the little ones out, and now you have weed Walmarts.”
Classifying cannabis as agriculture would qualify growers for substantial tax breaks.
“It would be great to be considered agriculture,” Adam "Tito" Gross said in testimony to lawmakers. “Because let me tell you, when I’ve got my hands in my soil or I'm watering my plants, it feels all the same to me.”
So how did Vermont end up with its current regulatory scheme?
Starr posed this question to James Pepper, chair of the Cannabis Control Board.
Unclear, Pepper said. The bill that created this system went through at least 11 legislative committees. “What was the phrase, a camel is a horse made from committee?” Pepper told lawmakers. “This is like the ultimate camel of a bill.”
Rodgers’ farm still hasn’t turned a profit, he said. He’s hoping to hit that tipping point in the next couple weeks, but for now, he’s still in the red.
“You’re a real farmer then,” Starr said, laughing. “If you get into the black, you’re not a real farmer.”
“Senator Starr, I’m really hoping this is a different type of farming,” Rodgers countered. “I’m really hoping there’s actual profit in it.”
— Riley Robinson
IN THE KNOW
State senators have begun discussing a wide-ranging bill that would safeguard Vermont doctors from professional repercussions for providing abortions within state lines — and crack down on non-medical, anti-abortion facilities that lawmakers deem deceptive in advertising.
The bill, S.37, is in the early stages of the legislative process, having only received a first hearing before a Senate panel on Tuesday. But it’s a hotly anticipated piece of legislation, many provisions of which began to take shape in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down nationwide abortion protections last June.
S.37 tackles the issue of abortion, as well as gender-affirming health care, from health care providers’ perspective. The 24-page bill bars medical malpractice insurance companies from hiking providers’ rates if they offer such reproductive health care in Vermont, and it protects providers from professional repercussions — such as a suspension of their medical license — for offering those services within state lines, where it’s legal. It also seeks to regulate what are known as crisis pregnancy centers, which are non-medical facilities that advertise to pregnant people and have the goal of dissuading patients from seeking abortions.
— Sarah Mearhoff
The Franklin County state’s attorney has issued a Brady letter against the county’s brand new sheriff, whose law enforcement certification is also under review because of an assault charge.
State’s Attorney John Lavoie provided these details about Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore during a state legislative committee hearing on Wednesday.
Grismore, 49, who was sworn in Wednesday, has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault in state court. Video footage showed him kicking a shackled man who had been in the department’s custody in August.
— Tiffany Tan
Key legislators have proposed significant reforms to the way county law enforcement officers do business in Vermont, prompted by reports from several departments alleging everything from misconduct to outright felonies, including:
- Outgoing Sheriff Peter Newton of Addison County was arrested in June on charges of sexually assaulting and unlawfully restraining a woman.
- Incoming Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore, a former deputy, has been charged with assaulting a man under his department’s custody last August. State police are also investigating the finances of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
- Outgoing Sheriff Chad Schmidt of Bennington County has acknowledged spending a third of the year in Tennessee since the Covid-19 pandemic reached Vermont in 2020.
- Outgoing Caledonia County Sheriff Dean Shatney reportedly gave himself and his entire staff bonuses totaling $400,000 last September before he stepped down.
- Outgoing Sheriff Bill Bohnyak of Orange County admitted to unprofessional conduct by assigning an unqualified deputy to handle special crime investigations in 2020.
One bill, S.17, would end the decades-old policy that allows sheriffs to personally pocket up to 5% of the revenue from their department’s contract work — additional pay that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars a year for this elected office.
Last week, lawmakers went a step further by introducing a constitutional amendment, Proposal 1, that would enable the Legislature to establish qualifications for sheriffs.
— Tiffany Tan
WHAT WE’RE READING
After splitting from Essex Junction, Essex town residents face a proposed 22% property tax hike (VTDigger)
Vermont Conversation: Kiah Morris continues her fight for justice (VTDigger)
Burlington mayor says police overtime for condo association will not continue (VTDigger)
Black High School Athletes Speak Out About Racism in Vermont Sports (Seven Days)
Second Vermonter Accused of Assaulting Police at January 6 Riot (Seven Days)
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