MONTPELIER, Vt. (May 17, 2022) – This week, Vermont issued its first retail marijuana cultivation license despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
The Vermont Cannabis Control Board was supposed to begin licensing growers by May 1, but missed that deadline. On Monday, the agency issued its first license to a small indoor cultivator in Rutland County, The board says it plans to issue more licenses in the next week.
An agency spokesman said staffing issues have slowed the approval process. According to data from the board, 83 small growers have submitted applications for cultivation licenses.
A bill to ease rules for small marijuana farmers and producers in Vermont is pending approval from Gov. Phil Scott.
Retail sales are set to begin in Vermont on Oct. 1.
Retailers are getting set to enter the market despite delays. Scott Sparks currently sells CBD and plans to open a retail cannabis shop. “I’m doing everything in my power to be ready to open on October first,” he said.
Vermont legalized the possession of one ounce or less and home cultivation of marijuana by adults over 21 in 2018, but the law did not allow commercial production or distribution of cannabis for the recreational market. In 2020, Gov. Phil Scott allowed a bill to become law creating a regulatory structure for the cultivation and sale of marijuana in the state.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
All of this is illegal according to the federal government.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of marijuana in Vermont removed a huge layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition remains in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
Efforts to ease regulations on small growers in Vermont highlight another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.