Cannabis growers want direct sales



Published: 01-02-2023 8:22 PM

Vermont cannabis growers are hoping to legalize direct-to-consumer sales of their product.

At present, unless they buy a $10,000 retail license, growers must sell to an intermediary, such as a retail shop. Geoffrey Pizzutillo, executive director of the Vermont Growers Association, said members want to have more control over how much they can charge.

The growers appear to have the support of at least one key state lawmaker: Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, vice chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee’s longtime chairwoman, Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, did not run for reelection.

“It’s really, really, really important to me that all of our cannabis legislation supports small growers,” Kornheiser said. “I’m curious to see if in the next few years, the conversation winds up a lot like the raw-milk conversation.”

Vermont has allowed farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers from their farms since 2009. Since 2014, it has allowed them to deliver and sell at farmers markets.

Kornheiser said she is “quite open-minded” about allowing farmers to sell cannabis directly to consumers.

“One of the ways in which small farms survive is through direct marketing of their own products,” said Graham Unangst-Rufenacht, policy director at Rural Vermont. Unangst-Rufenacht, a small grass-fed-beef farmer who lives in Marshfield, said he could not survive without selling beef directly to consumers.

“When you can directly sell your own product, there’s no cut going to an intermediary,” said Unangst-Rufenacht. “Everybody who produces a product should have a right to sell that product directly themselves.”

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Growers are allowed to sell cannabis to consumers, but they must get a retail license, said James Pepper, chair of the state Cannabis Control Board.

“I know $10,000 for a retail license is out of reach for a lot of folks,” Pepper said, noting that such a cost can be prohibitive for the average small cultivator.

Direct-to-consumer sales of cannabis by growers are not allowed anywhere in the United States, Pepper said. “But I think in Vermont, we can all imagine a time that that would be allowed,” he said.

However, he pointed to several hurdles.

“This is a very expensive crop compared to a tomato,” Pepper said. “So we have some very intensive security and cash management requirements for retailers which might be hard to pull off at a farmers’ market.”

Another obstacle: Under Vermont law, the mere display of cannabis constitutes an advertisement, and cannabis may not be advertised to the general public. That means farmers would have to find a way to sell their product at farm stands or farmers markets, for instance, without displaying it.

Pepper sees a possible solution in the creation of special-event cannabis retail licenses.

“You could have an over-21 farmers market that would not be visible to the general public,” Pepper said. “That’s a conversation that is going to happen this year.”

Pepper said he has heard a lot of interest from state senators in implementing a special-event license. He pointed out that if the Legislature authorizes such a license, it would take another nine months for the Cannabis Control Board to implement regulations.

“The downside to the system that we have set up is that the people who take the most care and put in the most work to growing this cannabis, generally speaking, just have to take whatever the price a wholesaler or retailer is willing to offer,” Pepper said.

The best way to allow small growers to succeed, Pepper said, is to allow them to bring their product to market themselves.