The following testimony was submitted electronically to members of the House Agriculture & Forestry Committee by Eli Harrington, founder of Greenbridge Consulting and Vermontijuana Media on January 23, 2020. These opinions represent only those of Mr. Harrington, who lobbies on behalf of Greenbridge Consulting and the Cannabis Event Permit Campaign.
January 23, 2020
Thank you for considering my written testimony. I’ve spent the last four years as a legal cannabis entrepreneur, having started a cannabis media and events company called Heady Vermont. Over the last four years, I’ve personally helped create at least five, legal, well-paying cannabis jobs, and have coordinated events that host safe, legal cannabis events ranging from trade shows to grower cups for over 5k participants of all ages.
To be clear, I strongly support the effort to tax-and-regulate cannabis. Since legalization, the worst-case scenarios used for years as reasons to maintain Prohibition have been proven false.Vermont’s had a long history of cannabis use, and a high percentage of the population who have consumed: before legalization, we were #2 and #3 in the country in % of the population who had consumed then-illegal, THC cannabis in the last 30 days and 12 months. Since legalization, we have seen historically safe roads, a reduction in racially-biased policing, and thousands of Vermonters who can now more publicly consider cannabis as a plant similar to zucchini rather than a dangerous schedule one substance.
The question of regulation is no longer a political one, it’s time to do it. The question is now a technical one: how does Vermont regulate cannabis in a way that ensures public safety, creates economic opportunity, and acknowledges the inequalities of prohibition by building an equal playing field for all to participate based on merit, not legislative preference? A metaphorical elephant that the House is now attempting to eat in one bite via S.54.
Over the past four years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in this building and thousands outside of it discussing, analyzing, and participating in the formation of cannabis policy in Vermont and beyond and regardless of who’s in office, to me there is a very clear order of how Vermont must regulate cannabis in order to be successful and learn lessons from other states.
1. Create a functional bureaucracy that can process and administer the program:
Instead of a new board with extremely specific descriptions, use existing state resources and create a five-person working board with representatives from: Agency of Agriculture, Department of Public Safety, Department of Health, Department of Revenue, Department of Liquor Control. Bureaucrats to administer an apolitical licensing process, not politicians.
2. Define a reasonable testing standard, and license independent labs
The hemp program has built this groundwork and sufficient labs and skilled labor exists for businesses to apply for, and receive, these licenses in a competitive process.
3. Build legal cannabis supply and bring illicit producers into the regulated system with licensed growers
To reduce the illicit market and prepare the state for public sales (and the huge demand that come with it), the state needs to have enough legal supply of tested, cannabis to sell to the public. Presently, only three dispensary operators produce 100% of all legal THC cannabis and we have zero legal supply, grower applications, or examples of licensed, legal THC cultivators.
Presently, S.54 as written would not follow this prescription, but would fast-track revenues without regulation by creating a special set of rules for existing medical marijuana dispensaries to monopolize the cultivation, processing, and sale of THC cannabis, all before licensing independent testing labs. To paint them all with the same brush, these are collectively medical cannabis dispensaries that are 3/5 controlled by out-of-state corporations with names like Curaleaf and iAnthus Capital, and who were caught — but not punished for — illegally cultivating over 200 THC plants with a hemp license at Pete’s Greens.
THE SOCIAL EQUITY LICENSING PROVISIONS ARE VAGUE, AND BASED ON ASSURANCES BY A COMMISSION THAT DOES NOT YET EXIST; HOWEVER, THE CORPORATE WELFARE PROVISIONS TO ADVANTAGE THE EXISTING LICENSEES ARE CLEAR, AND EMBEDDED IN STATUTE.
The failures of the medical program in Vermont have thus far prevented our state from effectively regulating THC cannabis and reinforced the illicit market, which is fueled by frustrated patients continue to leave the Vermont Marijuana Registry because the program — with all of it’s actors, state and dispensary — have failed them. Simply put, we do not presently regulate THC for 5000 sick people who pay the state to do it presently, and to whom we have a moral obligation to serve as paying patients.
To charge forward without a strategic approach that acknowledges those failures and realities is setting our state up for a tragically unequal and ill-prepared rollout, in which we collectively squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity and instead reinforce an illicit market and a true ‘worst of all worlds’ scenario.
Simply put, if the state does not prove its ability to license independent actors, the same failures and corruption from the medical marijuana program will be expanded 10x on the unsuspecting public. Our state needs to learn how to implement a testing standard, license independent labs, and license new participants in the program before opening the doors — and tills — for cannabis sales to the public, or we will create a dysfunctional system that prioritizes corporate welfare over sustainability.
Again, the idea of taxing and regulating cannabis in Vermont is long-overdue, and we have seen over a half a BILLION dollars of legal cannabis sold in our neighboring states and provinces. However, there will only ever be one cannabis regulation rollout, and we must think very clearly about lessons learned from other states in how to avoid predictable negative consequences and make cannabis regulation a positive and informed process. The “how” matters now.
Co-Founder: Vermont Hemp Fest, Vermont Cannabis Convention, Southern Vermont Cannabis Expo & Symposium, Heady Vermont (cannabis media and events)
Founder, Greenbridge Consulting, Vermontijuana Media and Events