Vermont Cannabis Collaborative: Advocates stress local and small cannabis production and sales

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BRATTLEBORO — Windham County marijuana growers showed up to a meeting Monday at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden to weigh in on proposed legislation that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

The meeting was called by Vermont Cannabis Collaborative, an advocacy group that supports the idea, Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, who has promised to help write a bill for the upcoming session, and Vermont Home Grown, another advocacy group.

White said the meeting in Brattleboro was set up to give people a chance to weigh in on the issue, and the major message shared by those who spoke was to make sure the growers who have been successful with an underground economy are not left behind when the production and sale of marijuana becomes legal.

Stuart Savel, who was one of the many in the crowd of about 50 wearing a "Vermont Home Grown" shirt, said there was an assumption that the pot that is now available is grown and transported through "an evil underground," while Vermonters are growing and selling high quality weed, and have been for a long time.

"The fact is that a lot of the cannabis in Vermont comes from local people growing it," Savel said. "And it's some of the best in the world. And to reinvent the wheel, and say, 'Now we're going to teach people how to do it and start it anew,' is, in a sense, throwing away the baby with the water."

Savel was one of the many who spoke who encouraged White to craft a bill that encouraged small and local growers and entrepreneurs.

White is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and last year she hosted a series of informal hearings to gather testimony from growers, law enforcement, the public, critics, health experts and members of the administration to begin work on a bill which she promised to have ready in time for the 2016 legislative session.

Savel went to Montpelier for some of those hearings and he said the new bill should help establish distribution and growing laws, while using the state's strong community of successful growers.

"We talk about people driving up from somewhere else and selling it on the street," said Savel. "A lot of what I've seen is it's grown locally. We should be talking about an effective way to promote people growing and the state should be thinking about distribution, research and that kind of thing. "

"The goal of the committee and I believe the goal of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative is not to encourage large growers," White said. "When we talk about the Vermont way, that's exactly what we were talking about; local people growing in local areas and keeping it small. Part of the goal is to make people who are currently growing, legal."

During the 2015 Legislative session Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D Chittenden, introduced a marijuana legalization bill, but White said Tuesday that was she was going to work on a new bill in November and have it ready in time for when the 2016 session starts in January.

The meeting at the River Garden was the first of three planned meetings around the state to hear from the public about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

White has been supporting legalization for a long time and said there is much more support for it now than when she first started talking about five years ago.

She also stressed the importance of trying to get a bill passed in 2016, before Gov. Peter Shumlin leaves office.

"We know who our Governor is right now. We don't know who our governor will be next year, but we know who our governor won't be next year. We want this to pass this year. We know our current governor supports this," she said. "The momentum is growing. In my opinion it's inevitable, it's going to happen, but if it's going to happen , my concern is that it happen the Vermont way."

While White said her committee had not yet begun to draw out the specifics of the bill, she did talk about some of the provisions she was hoping to see in it.

White said she wanted Vermonters to be able to grow their own cannabis, without being taxed, as long as it was for personal, family use or to be given away.

She also said the new law could allow each person to grow on a plot within a restricted amount of area. People who wanted to grow on additional plots would have to purchase permits.

Another provision would allow the creation of five separate permits: for retail sales, for research, for commercial production, for the manufacturing of edibles, and a fifth for distribution, which would allow businesses to transport cannabis but not grow it.

She also said the state would try to limit the number of permits around the state to encourage smaller and local businesses to be created.

"I want a legal way to sell it. What we're looking at is not getting rid of homegrown, but allowing those people who are now growing the ability to have a permit to sell on a retail basis. Anyone can continue to grow for their own use, but if you want to sell you've got to have some kind of a legal permit," White said. "If we're going to pass a piece of legislation we need suggestions on the details of how to do that, not the broad concept of keeping it local and making sure people don't get pushed out. We need details."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be contacted at 802-254-2311 ext. 279


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