How Might Vermont Become an East Coast Cannabis Center Of Excellence? A Conversation with Will Raap, VTCC Company-Founder
As soon as I become Heady Vermont editor, I reached out to Gardener’s Supply co-founder Will Raap to reflect on possible futures for cannabis and hemp in the Green Mountains as the July 1, 2018 legalization date approaches. In addition to being a successful business owner working in “green spaces” for many decades, Raap cofounded the 2015 Vermont Cannabis Collaborative (VTCC), a group of Vermont’repreneurs (full disclosure – I was involved on the steering committee) who spent 18 months researching and drafting a proposal for a regulated, legalized, taxed cannabis and hemp industry that could make Vermont an “East coast cannabis center of excellence.”
Here are excerpts from our conversation. Read the entire “what cannabis can do for Vermont” 2015 vision and report here.
Q. Years ago, you founded Gardener’s Supply, and have thought long and hard about the future of hemp and cannabis here in Vermont. In brief, what’s your vision for hemp and cannabis here in the Green Mountains moving forward?
A. Hemp was a major commercial farming crop in Vermont for over a century before cannabis prohibition 80 years ago. Then, hemp was grown mostly for fiber, probably food oil too. Plus, Vermont emerged as a leading grower of underground marijuana over the past 50 years. Hemp and marijuana were top Vermont cash crops here in the Green Mountains in times over the past 200 years, helping the economics of working landscapes and family farms. I envision that becoming true again soon.
Q. Are you satisfied with the pace with which the Vermont state government has rolled out medical and (soon) recreational cannabis legalization?
A. Vermont has led the East coast on decriminalization of marijuana and on medical marijuana legalization. That fits our values. The legislature moves a bit more slowly than the change in public attitudes for full legalization because we do not have the citizen initiative process. That is OK, especially if the extra time is used to improve adult use legalization policy. Hopefully, that is what the current Governor’s Cannabis Advisory Council is working on.
Vermont cannabis growers and processors need to find protectable niches that leverage what is unique about doing business in Vermont: quality, sustainable production, innovation, access to the East coast market.
Q. What are the biggest obstacles to hemp and cannabis legalization in Vermont, in your mind?
A. Beyond the federal designation of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, it seems the two biggest obstacles to THC legalization in Vermont are the risk of impaired driving and controlling access by minors. The main obstacle to hemp, with low THC, is that it is still considered a Schedule 1 drug but that obstacle is fast evaporating as the farm lobby sees the value of growing hemp, and advocates like Senator Mitch McConnell point out the need for change.
Q. What advice do you have for Vermonters interested in hemp and cannabis agri’preneurialism?
A. Look, there will be a flood of legal hemp and cannabis in coming years. Prices will drop fast as we see in Colorado, California and Canada. Vermont cannabis growers and processors need to find protectable niches that leverage what is unique about doing business in Vermont: quality, sustainable production, innovation, access to the east coast market. Plus, the underground market may still exist as the tax and regulate market develops, so competition may come from big outside businesses and small Vermont growers.
Q. What are the primary opportunities and pitfalls for a taxed, regulated, legalized cannabis industry in Vermont moving forward?
A. I mentioned several opportunities above, and a few pitfalls. My other big concern – will government oversight be predictable and consistent?
Q. Any other insights regarding cannabis and hemp you’d like to share?
A. Vermont could be a leader in quality and innovation, at least on the East coast, if the state embraces the economic development opportunity cannabis and hemp represent and helps to coordinate the University of Vermont, Vermont Technical College, and the Department of Agriculture and other state institutions to build a new industry – as we have done with other iconic Vermont products like cheese and maple syrup.
Q. Thanks for taking the time, Will.
A. My pleasure.