Long Lines, Joyful Vibes Mark First Weekend of Vermont Dispensary Sales

Monica Donovan 3 Oct 2022

RUTLAND — Strolling up to the end of the line at Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland the morning of October 1 felt a little bit like getting in line for a concert – if live music had just been legalized for the first time ever.

Long but orderly lines, ear to ear grins, and a joyful atmosphere marked the start of Vermont’s first weekend of adult use dispensary sales, as three of the state’s four licensed adult use retailers kicked off sales in Rutland, Middlebury and Burlington on Saturday, October 1.

The very first purchase, from customer Caleb Teske, at Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland, Vermont on Saturday, October 1, consisting of an eighth, a preroll and infused coffee. Courtesy Photo/Caleb Teske/The Fine Print Journalism

Things inside the stores were orderly, professional and calm – obscuring the very real fact that dispensary owners, their employees, and the state’s licensed suppliers had just pulled all-nighters as they scrambled to put their products and stores together in time for a Saturday opening.

Despite concerns about supply and slow testing turnaround, no stores reported running out of product, with a couple of minor exceptions. All three locations reported robust sales – and all reported that customers were over the moon to be buying cannabis products legally in Vermont for the very first time.

Last month, the Vermont Cannabis Control Board issued its first licenses for adult-use cannabis retail sales to Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland, a social equity applicant, and Flora Cannabis in Middlebury. Additionally, the Board approved an integrated license for medical operator Ceres MED to operate Ceres Collaborative in Burlington.

Mountain Girl Cannabis: Rutland

On West Street in Rutland, as the day started grey and cloudy just outside Mountain Girl Cannabis, Lyndonville native and freelance journalist Caleb Teske was first in line – and the store’s number one customer. His first purchase at 11:03 a.m.? An eighth of Gary Payton, a Cereal Milk preroll and Sunset Lake CBD Coffee.

The scene down in #Rutlandvt before the Mountain Girl Cannabis opening. Source: Caleb Teske/The Fine Print Journalism

Mountain Girl Cannabis, founded by Josh and Ana MacDuff, is the state’s first licensed social equity retailer. The brand was named to honor Carolyn Garcia, a lifelong advocate for legalization, sustainable cannabis cultivation, and educated consumption. Following up with Ana by phone on Sunday night, she was tired – but abundantly grateful.

“It was surreal, but also very, very good.”
— Ana MacDuff, Mountain Girl Cannabis

“We weren’t sure what to expect,” she said. “It was surreal, but also very, very good.” Like other store owners, MacDuff described the joy and excitement that people brought into the store as they purchased their first Vermont cannabis products.

“People are energized. It’s overwhelmingly positive and we’re so happy we’re doing this,” she said.

FLORA Cannabis: Middlebury

In Middlebury, outside FLORA Cannabis on Park Street, the atmosphere was also celebratory, with a slightly more political air, as founders Michael Sims and Dave Silberman hosted a ribbon cutting at 10:45 a.m.

“To see Vermonters so happy…It’s so warming. It makes all of that work for all of those years worth it.” — Dave Silberman, FLORA Cannabis

Silberman, an attorney and longtime cannabis advocate in the Statehouse, invited state and local officials who had paved the way for legal weed in Vermont, reported Seven Days yesterday. “The days of cannabis being sold in the shadows are over,” he declared during a ribbon cutting speech. “Welcome to a new era!”

Speaking by phone Sunday night after closing, Silberman had perhaps lost some of that first-morning pep – but it was clear it had been an epic weekend. “To see Vermonters so happy and lining up at these stores and just in a party atmosphere…. it’s so warming. It makes all of that work for all of those years worth it,” he said.

For people who’ve been to jail for weed, it was an even bigger deal. Silberman said one customer was especially excited: “She said was going to call her dad and tell him what she just did, and that it would be so meaningful to him because he went to jail for cannabis,” he said. “I got to share with her that the product she was buying was also from a cultivator who went to jail for cannabis.”

For Silberman, the story illustrates perfectly why they do what they do. “The whole point has been to end the war on drugs and repair the damage done,” he said, “And so we’re doing that little by little.”

CERES Collaborative: Burlington

Meanwhile, at Burlington’s CERES Collaborative, a line of a couple hundred people stretched from the storefront around the corner and down the Center Street alley past The Daily Planet, reported the Burlington Free Press. CeresMED, which has four medical dispensary locations in Vermont, is currently the state’s only integrated adult use dispensary.

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Integrated licenses may engage in the activities allowed under adult-use licenses, including retail sales, and are at present granted only to the state’s existing medical dispensaries. At this time, CERES Collaborative is also the only out-of-state-owned adult use dispensary in Vermont.

“People were in great spirits. The weather was just perfect. Everyone was coming in with a smile.” — Russ Todia, CERES Collaborative

The line for CERES Collective in Burlington, Vermont on October 1, 2022.
The line for CERES Collaborative in Burlington, Vermont on October 1, 2022. Source: @Lifeboy79 on Twitter

CERES Chief Operating Officer Russ Todia, speaking by Zoom earlier today, said that the week leading up to the opening was an intense one. “Every day I had a different confidence level in whether we could be open,” Todia said, noting that CERES finally received its license number on Wednesday. “Once we did get that information on Wednesday, it was a real mad dash to make sure we had that license number on all our packaging. It was all hands on deck.”

Despite the last-minute scramble for his team, Todia, like the other retailers, had nothing but great things to say about the vibes on opening weekend. “People were in great spirits. The weather was just perfect. Everyone was coming in with a smile,” he said.

Bryan Menard had the honor of being the entire state’s first-ever dispensary customer. He was in line in front of CERES Collaborative by 6:30 a.m, and the first in the door just after 10 on Saturday. Menard told the Free Press he planned to buy about $100 worth of cannabis product and “maybe some edibles products.”

Minor Issues, But Overall A Smooth Start

All three store owners said that, despite the mad dash before opening, overall things went smoothly. There were some minor issues over the weekend around things like packaging. Todia reported that CERES ran out of hash. As a concentrate product, hash is capped at 60% potency by law in Vermont. Todia also said they “ran out of singles way too early,” forcing employees to run over to local bars for change.

“There was lot of heart and emotion and work that went into this from so many people.”
— Julie Hulburd, Vermont Cannabis Control Board

Vermont Cannabis Control Board Member Julie Hulburd, who visited Mountain Girl and FLORA over the weekend, said it seemed that store operators were really well organized and ready to go. “I’m sure they were all scrambling Friday, but when I arrived at both dispensaries everyone looked like they were on top of their game,” she said in a phone interview this morning.

The first customer at Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland, Caleb Teske, center, with Josh and Ana MacDuff on Saturday, October 1, 2022.
The first customer at Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland, Caleb Teske, center, with Josh and Ana MacDuff on Saturday, October 1, 2022.

Pulling up to Mountain Girl Cannabis on Saturday, Hulburd remarked that it was an emotional moment for her. “When I pulled in inside the line, I burst into tears,” she shared. “There was lot of heart and emotion and work that went into this from so many people.”

She was also deeply appreciative of the work that went into making last weekend happen, from both the Control Board team and license holders. “There was so much overtime and busting their butts in an industry that has some serious hustle. Everyone was on it. To get to this October 1 point was huge,” Hulburd said.

“To see a social equity applicant, in particular, which is the reason I wanted to be a part of this in the first place, that was that moment for me.” she reflected. “Hopefully there will be more.”

From the regulatory side, like store owners, Hulburd said that there were small issues, but that she expects those things to resolve over time. “We don’t expect everything or everyone to be perfect,” she said. “In terms of the grand scheme of things, issues [this weekend] were pretty small and quickly dealt with.”

Attendance Even Across Locations, Flower a Popular Choice

Interestingly enough, all three retailers estimated that they each had “about a thousand” people walk through their doors over the course of the weekend. Many came in groups of two or three. They also reported that the vast majority of customers were Vermonters, coming from distances all over the state.

A smaller percentage (perhaps ~15-35%) of people also made the drive from neighboring states like New Hampshire and New York, and those visiting from longer distances who were pleasantly surprised to find that they could now shop at Vermont dispensaries.

All three retailers estimated that they each had “about a thousand” people walk through their doors over the course of the weekend

Todia said that a wide range of ages came into the Burlington store over the weekend.”I don’t think there was a demographic that didn’t come into the shop,” said Todia, who remarked they saw everyone from college aged UVM kids to an ID from someone in their 80s.

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By and large, the product that seemed to sell the most was flower. “We had eighths and quarters and prerolls,” said Silberman. “Prerolls were a huge seller.” Laughing, he noted that one customer on Sunday bought a preroll to “test things out” – and when it “actually got him stoned,” he came back four hours later to buy the same variety in a packaged eighth.

MacDuff also said that flower and packaged prerolls were popular. “We had five to six different strains to choose from – it felt like we had a good variety,” she said.

“On average, at least an 8th almost to the person,” Todia said of CERES. He said the store also sold a good amount of O.Pen vapes and gummies.

An official report of the first weekend of sales is yet to be determined. Hulburd said to expect more info from the Control Board on this over the next few days, perhaps later this week.

Looking Ahead: What’s Next?

Silberman had encouraging words for those still working through licensing and other hurdles. “For folks who are still going through the licensing process, stick with it,” he said. “It’ll happen.”

All three retailers are very interested in hearing from manufacturers and local growers, in particular if they have packaged and tested product.

“”It’s been an amazing experience. What a weekend. What an amazing thing that all of us have done.”

MacDuff said that Mountain Girl is working with a lot of cultivators that are “ready to give us stuff,” but their test results did not come in last week. She expressed concerns about the current testing bottleneck.

“We had enough for day 1 and 2 . We think we have enough for day 3, but beyond that we don’t know,” she said, laughing. They currently carry products from local growers and manufacturers like The Cannabis Collective and Family Tree.

Todia said that he’s feeling good about supply right now, but that he’s excited to see more stores in Burlington. “If there aren’t more retailers online [in the next few months] I’ll be concerned about our supply, because there’s too much demand for one store,” he said.

Most of what the Burlington store currently carries is CERES-branded product, but Todia hopes they will be able to start carrying more rotating cultivars from craft growers soon. “A lot of folks are coming in late,” Todia said.

Though he was unable to name any specific local companies or products during the call, he indicated that products from craft cultivators will start hitting their shelves hopefully this week.

Silberman, for his part, thinks FLORA has enough to get them through the next couple of weeks. “I don’t think we’ll run out. That being said, we are definitely working with cultivators to get more stuff into the store.”

He said he particularly wants to hear from cultivators who have packaged, dry, quality product especially prerolls, eighths, quarters, and gram jars that are packaged under their own brand. “We’d love to hear from them,” Silberman noted.

FLORA currently carries products from local companies like Mad River Terps, The Evidence Room, Family Tree, Sunset Lake and Doy Yeh Smokiezz.

At the end of our call, as we wrapped things up with closing thoughts, Silberman and I reflected back on the work and years we had put into this industry, and what a long road it had been since we first started working together. It was a poignant moment, one full of emotion and gratitude.

“It’s been an amazing experience. What a weekend. What an amazing thing that all of us have done,” he said.

Thanks for reading! 🙏🏽

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