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Bravo Botanicals prepares hemp seeds for the planting season.

GUILFORD — In a greenhouse in a field off of Guilford Center Road, Andy Loughney is getting his hands dirty.

He’s scooping genuine organic Vermont compost out of a five-gallon bucket and pressing it into a soil blocker in preparation for planting his first marijuana seeds.

For the past four years, he and his business partner, Ben James, have been doing that with hemp seeds, growing and harvesting the flower for its oils.

Their company, Bravo Botanicals, has a line of CBD products, certified organic, made with cannabidiol extracted from their harvest, including cold-pressed CBDA drops and CBD creams.

With the success of their hemp products and passage of Act 164, Vermont’s marijuana legalization and regulation law, James said it’s time for them to see if there is a market for the same sort of products — only these contain tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive agent in marijuana that gets you high.

Under the Bravo Botanicals label, the company will continue to produce its hemp products, which are all certified organic.

“Encore will be our THC side,” said James.


James and Loughney are taking a bit of a chance by putting seeds in the little blocks of soil and getting them to sprout in the greenhouse before moving them outdoors, because they haven’t yet received their cultivation license.

“All we know is our applications are waiting somewhere,” said James, who believes they will get a license, he just doesn’t know exactly when. “Right now, we’re doing this all on faith.”

On April 1, the state began taking applications from small cultivators like Encore, which plans to start with 30 plants producing about 15 pounds of flower.

Licenses were due to be issued on May 1, but that hasn’t happened yet, and as any Vermont gardener knows, if you want to put your crop in the ground around Labor Day, you better get it started in a greenhouse first.

“They’re going to be in here for a month,” said Loughney, as he pushed a tiny seed into each of the soil blocks, sprinkling dirt over them and gently patting them down.

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On April 29, the Cannabis Control Board announced there would be “a long delay” for the issuance, because it does not yet have enough staff members allowing it to adhere to its core mission of “creating a safe, effective and equitable adult-use market.”

“We were recently authorized to hire the staff we need and are currently in the process of recruiting them,” stated the board in a news release. “In the meantime, the board is working diligently to review applications and approve qualified applicants for licensure, and the recipients of those licenses may begin to operate immediately.”

So far, the state has received a total of 431 applications, 323 from prospective cultivators.

As was expressed during a recent Brattleboro Planning Commission forum on licensing, everyone is still interpreting the language of Act 164, and there is some confusion over who can do what, where and when.

“I am worried about the stores that will have to deal with all these different cultivators,” said James. “I’m worried about cultivators getting processing licenses, so that they can trim and sell the bud directly without having to sell their untrimmed bud to a so-called processor to then trim it and then somehow sell it. As far as I can tell, that requires three licenses.”

Applying for the cultivator license cost Encore $1,000. Their manufacturing license application cost $750. If they wanted an “all-inclusive” license, which includes cultivating, manufacturing and processing, wholesaling, retailing, it would cost James and Loughney $100,000, money they’re not yet willing to spend.

“Really, it’s just an experiment,” said James, about this first crop.

But he’s confident as with Bravo’s hemp products, which are available locally at Vermont Hempicurean in West Brattleboro and Ratu’s in Wilmington, there will be a market for Encore’s THC products in October, when the company hopefully will start the process of “manufacturing” its tinctures.

As it stands now, you won’t be able to buy the THC-containing products in Guilford, because town voters have not yet voted to allow retail sales.

The plants will be intermingled with the hemp crop, and cultivators are mandated by law to use at least one of five surveillance systems.

“We’ve never needed security for our hemp,” said James. “We’ll actually have two or three of those five options.”

Bravo has been sending out much of its hemp for processing to Kria Botanicals in Burlington. It has a cold press it has been using on site to extract CBDA and make a tincture, which James characterizes as “extremely bitter.”

They’re going to use that same process with the marijuana flowers to produce a THC tincture, perhaps some products with CBD, as well.

“It’s as close to the plant as you’re going to get,” said James.

Bob Audette can be contacted at