Small cannabis grower reflects on licensing delays, jumping into Vt.'s fledgling recreational market
Vermont Cannabis growers are eagerly awaiting the approval of licenses from the state Cannabis Control Board, the governing body that decides who can sell products in the state’s forthcoming recreational marketplace.
The board has received more than 60 applications for small growers so far, with the state’s retail marketplace set to open Oct. 1.
But it’s taken longer than expected to process those applications due to issues with background checks, which means the state will miss a May 1 deadline to begin issuing licenses.
One small grower hoping to get one is Eduardo Jaime, a former paramedic who cashed in his 401k to start Fine Bud Farms in Randolph.
VPR's Grace Benninghoff spoke to Jaime about the application process while he was running errands with his kids. He started by talking about his reaction to the licensing delay. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Eduardo Jaime: With the [Cannabis Control Board's] announcement, I feel as though it's kind of expected. This is a pretty big undertaking. It is what it is. It's going to take time — this is something new. And the [Cannabis Control Board] seems to want to get it right for Vermont, and for small farmers in particular. Hopefully they'll get it sooner rather than later.
Grace Benninghoff: How is this shifting timeline impacting your ability to get your business up and running by Oct. 1? You're obviously growing a plant, so I'd imagine there has to be a runway to actually having products available and getting started with producing those products.
Absolutely. And we're doing outdoor cultivation, so that's a completely different animal — our plants have to be in the ground by mid-May. There's all these things that kind of hold back a season, right? And the delay on applications will definitely do that. As the season goes on, you're not going to have a good, full product capable of everything that it could be.
Have you run into any other hiccups or obstacles so far in these early stages of getting the business off the ground while you're waiting for that approval?
So the federal legal status of cannabis puts a real damper on banking, particularly for small farmers. There's some exorbitant fees that kind of make it make it unattainable. You know, it's hard to afford a $200 a month banking fee to just kind of sit and wait every month without having any kind of income. Or the 2 to 3% monthly fees.
So as you're waiting for that approval, you're paying fees and losing money while you're waiting to start selling your product?
If you even get a bank account — we've not been able to get one. And so we just kind of hope that that's OK. The [Cannabis Control Board] has always said that they are going to consider every application on a case-by-case basis. And they have the ultimate control to decide "yea" or "nay." And I hope that they can see some of these roadblocks that are in place for small growers, in particular.
Stepping back a bit, can you describe your background with growing cannabis and why you wanted to start a business and get involved in the marketplace?
I've been growing cannabis for a certain number of years in an unregulated market. And with two small children — that's what draws me to a legal regulated market. You know, the ability to keep doing something I love with no implications behind it. Unfortunately, there's so many people that are still incarcerated for growing this plant. And that's never a place you want to end up.
The state says it's trying to prioritize small cannabis operations with the regulatory structure it's building for the marketplace. Why is that a worthwhile goal to pursue?
I think transparency, first and foremost. I think people need to know where their products are coming from. The same thing with agriculture — you need to know where our food is coming from. And to keep things local is also another important thing. You want to stimulate the local economy. You want to keep that money in the community, because community is what makes these things possible.
I like that that's what they're they're trying to do. And I hope that that's the way it works out. I think it would make for one of the best recreational cannabis markets in the nation, to be honest.
I know there's been concern about some small growers being pushed out of the marketplace in favor of these larger growers. For our listeners who might not be familiar with the difference between these different types of operations, could you just tell me a little bit about that?
I think quality always suffers with these bigger operations, these multistate operators. The time that they allot to each plant is far less than than any farmer would. Small farmers, they really care for their crop. They care for their product. They care for their animals — whatever it is that they have.
These multistate operators prioritize their profits. And so you get pesticide usage. You get plants that are just not cared for. There's there's mildew. There's pest infestations. Anyway, I think the public deserves a superior product — a clean product. And you're not going to get that from multistate operators.
It reminds me of the way people talk about like shopping at a major grocery store versus a farmers market.
That's great. That's the same thing. That's what we want — we want to shop at farmers markets. We want to know where our stuff is coming from.
Are you optimistic that everything will be ready to go by Oct. 1?
Oh, I think this first year is kind of going to be a wash. There's a little bit of hope there. But we'll see. I'm really excited to see what's what's going to happen. I'm excited for all the very talented Vermont small growers that I know are pursuing cannabis cultivation licenses. I think it's an exciting time. I mean, you're going to kind of have to wait — wait and see what happens. It's going to be an evolving scene for the next couple of years. And if it doesn't work out, then the unregulated market will continue to reign supreme.