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BENNINGTON — Change is hard. Change is often slow. Being the catalyst for change is almost always an arduous process.
The Cannabis Retail Association of Vermont (CRAV) is taking on the challenge of continuing the growth of legalized recreational marijuana as an industry, despite the uphill climb that can be at times.
Retail cannabis business owners across the state came together in March to form the group and continue the positive momentum retail cannabis has picked up in the Green Mountain State since cannabis shops opened their doors last October.
“We wanted to create a unified voice,” said Colleen McQuade, CRAV’s first chairperson and the owner of Bennington’s first retail cannabis shop, Juniper Lane.
“That was our biggest thing, to get our voice heard. We’re all facing these issues together,” she said. “So now we can come together, have this unification, and create change in positive ways.”
McQuade and her colleagues are excited about the progress they’ve made, and the relationships they’ve forged – namely with the Vermont Legislature and the Cannabis Control Board. But there is still plenty of work to be done, she said.
Bill H.270, which has loosened some restrictions and eased some financial burdens on retailers, is now on Gov. Phil Scott’s desk. He could sign it into law, veto it or allow it to pass without a signature.
“It will bring some really nice changes for us,” McQuade said. “Not everything we wanted, but at least some good steps in the right direction.”
McQuade said the young association has already been treated with a great deal of legitimacy and respect, and that their input has been sought and valued.
“I testified as the chair (of CRAV) in front of the Economic Development Committee of the Senate right before [the bill] got pushed out,” she said. “It was on the definition of advertising. It opened up a conversation for next year to look at advertising guidelines, and the impact, and how we might be able to make things a little easier on us, because we have the strictest guidelines of any industry.”
CRAV is aiming to break down some of those barriers that hamper them, such as the extensive disclaimers required on all ads, or the requirement of CCB’s approval prior to any social media post or print advertising on their product.
“I’m the only business on Main Street that is required to have blinds in their front windows,” she said incredulously.
“Other industries like alcohol, a 21-plus only industry that’s regulated, they’re allowed to advertise more freely than we are,” she added. “We just want to take the burden off of us, because especially in a place like Bennington, I feel the effect… Other dispensaries in Massachusetts are advertising without restriction into Vermont, while I’m sitting here playing by the rules, and I can’t even post up my new products I just got in stock.”
McQuade did comment on some of the progress made with Bill H.270 in that regard, though. One of the most prominent changes the bill makes is raising THC limits in one package from 50 mg to 100 mg, which allows for more competitive pricing with surrounding states.
McQuade said fewer packages to distribute the same amount of product is a welcome change for another reason, which is CRAV’s commitment to be environmentally friendly.
“On the packaging issue, I think we’re setting a standard that’s going to hopefully have a ripple effect nationally… we recycle our jars, people can bring back their jars and get a dollar off their next purchase.”
Though many of McQuade’s products are required to be packaged in glass or cardboard by Vermont state law, some plastics are still used. Juniper Lane uses ocean safe, home-compostable plastics, which for the time being comes at a much higher cost since buying these plastics in bulk is difficult.
CRAV is mostly focused on improving the climate for retailers and consumers within the state right now, but McQuade said down the road, the association would love to engage with other states and join national conversations.
“I hope that we go that route at some point, just to kind of continue to build that national cannabis industry, and push for federal legalization.”
One word that McQuade uses a lot in describing her associations is community. Although she might relate to the issues of her fellow retailers, she wants anyone that is friendly to recreational marijuana to be part of the conversation at CRAV.
“We just recently created an affiliate membership that will allow other people that want to join – so if you’re a manufacturer, you might not be able to vote on our major topics if you’re not a retailer – but you can join as an affiliate and get the same kind of member benefits, like discounts on some services and legislative updates.”