2 Upper Valley cannabis growers among first to get licenses from Vermont board

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-17-2022 11:06 AM

SOUTH STRAFFORD — The Vermont side of the Upper Valley may be getting a little greener as the state’s cannabis market begins to take shape.

Two Upper Valley businesses are among those to have received some of the first licenses issued in the state’s new cannabis marketplace, which is slated to open in October. The news comes as Bradford, Vt., recently joined the list of towns to put the opt-in for retail sales before voters, potentially opening up more avenues for growers.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Michelle Shane, who co-owns Clover Hill Cannabis in South Strafford with her husband, Michael, said of the license they received earlier this month.

The couple, who have 2½-year-old twins, have been working toward getting the business up and running for a while, Shane said. After receiving an indoor cultivator license from the Vermont Cannabis Control Board on June 6, they are now in the process of getting a foundation poured and getting a new closed-system steel building up. The building is slated to be energy-efficient — the goal is it will eventually have a zero-carbon footprint — and include a water reclamation system to take water out of the air to be reused for the plants.

“It’s going to be really cool,” she said.

Clover Hill’s license, one of seven the state has issued so far for indoor cultivators, allows it to wholesale its products, but not to make retail sales. The state board is slated to begin issuing licenses to manufacturers and wholesalers on Aug. 1. The board can begin to issue licenses for retailers on Oct. 1.

Under the Tier 1 license, Clover Hill can cultivate up to 1,000 square feet of plant canopy indoors using artificial lighting. Review of Clover Hill’s application was expedited on the basis of “economic empowerment,” which Shane said she didn’t realize until it was approved. She suspects it was based on her being a female business owner and her husband being a veteran.

Shane, who is 38 and has been organic farming for 11 years, said she “saw this as an opportunity to help shape a new Vermont industry.”

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The goal of the business is to grow high-quality, small-batch, organic cannabis flowers, she said.

“Vermont really inspires that,” she said, pointing to other industries such as small-scale cheese and beer, where Vermont-based businesses have made names for themselves.

Shane said she hopes Clover Hill has cannabis ready to sell by October or November. They’ve already had some success growing cannabis under home-grow rules, which allow people to have two mature plants and four immature plants at one time.

One variety, called Passenger Pigeon, won third place at a Vermont competition called The Headies in which judges evaluate flowers based on various characteristics including quality, taste and effect. According to Clover Hill’s website, Passenger Pigeon has strong scent of fresh pine with lemon overtones. Its “smooth dense smoke provides a powerful draw without the cough,” and the high it provides “rouses the brain and relaxes the body.”

Elsewhere in the Upper Valley, the Cannabis Control Board granted Green Mountain Kana in Chelsea a Tier 1 “mixed cultivator” license in May. Green Mountain Kana is one of four businesses to have gotten a “mixed cultivator” license so far. That license allows businesses to grow up to 1,000 square feet of plant canopy indoors and up to 125 plants outdoors.

Green Mountain Kana’s application was expedited on the basis of “social equity,” according to the Control Board’s website. The company is owned by Adam Sacks, 42, who said he had been incarcerated for drug-related crimes under historic marijuana laws. He declined to go into details about his experience out of concerns that he would receive “hate mail” for being a former incarcerated person who is now licensed to sell marijuana wholesale.

“I’m so happy to be here,” Sacks said.

Formerly a chef, Sacks described himself as a “legacy hemp grower,” who has been growing hemp on his property in Chelsea for five years. He sells CBD at area farmers markets, including in Chelsea and South Royalton.

Sacks, who is originally from Hartford, Conn., said he started growing marijuana at 12. He’s always loved nature and he’s “super-interested in plant science.”

He enjoys considering the variables of the environment and substrate, and making plant management decisions.

“That really gets me going,” he said. “It’s fun. I’m good at it. (I) want to be able to bring people in the state a really fine product.”

Meanwhile, the Bradford (Vt.) Selectboard decided at a meeting last week to send the question of whether to allow retail cannabis sales in town to voters.

Dan Perry, the Selectboard chairman, said he’s “going to stay neutral on this one,” but that he supports the idea of allowing voters to decide whether to allow retail sales in town.

It’s “easy to do the vote and see what happens,” he said.

Perry said the board hasn’t yet set a date for Bradford’s vote, but he hoped it would coincide with the primary in August or general election in November to avoid additional costs associated with a special vote. To start, he said he expects the town will hold an informational meeting in July.

Several Upper Valley towns have already held votes on the issue. Some, including Hartford and Woodstock, held votes in March. Hartford approved retail sales, while Woodstock approved sales in town, but rejected them in the village. Windsor, Randolph and Strafford approved retail sales in votes held in 2021.

Marcey Carver, who chairs the Bradford Planning Commission, said the town sent out a survey as part of its town planning process. One of the questions asked whether residents supported retail cannabis sales. About 85% of the 130 survey respondents supported such sales, she said.

“I’ve heard of people here in town who are interested in putting in an application,” she said. “So there’s an interest in it.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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