What is the Vermont Chamber of Commerce afraid of? How about the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce? The Vermont Agency of Commerce? If you believe their anti-legalization rhetoric, you might not be aware that cannabis is the second most profitable cash crop in Vermont. You might also think that cannabis is dangerous to individuals and communities. You might even regard the ancillary businesses serving the cannabis community as professionals to avoid at all costs, for fear of a contact tarnish.

Problem is, the reefer madness approach to economic development is completely detached from reality. These ancillary businesses create local jobs and employ Vermonters — lots of them, actually. And in 2017, these activities are neither fringe nor particularly controversial. They are mainstream businesses, creating mainstream jobs, and they deserve to be moved out of the shadows.

Revenues from Vermont’s cannabis and hemp industries will generate taxes, just like any other economic sector; but more importantly, they will create livable wage jobs. There’s a general consensus that anyone who holds down a job and is a productive member of society is entitled to a degree of dignity and respect, regardless of their chosen line of work.

Unfortunately, gatekeepers within Vermont’s established business community and Agency of Commerce are making value judgments about what “Made in Vermont” brand to champion. To them, our state’s most important agricultural crop, and most important agricultural opportunity of the last 100 years, apparently doesn’t fit their staid criteria for the “Made in Vermont” brand.

It appears that Vermont’s cannabis and hemp cultivators and the ancillary services who support them are just too controversial for the state’s right-leaning business establishment, and associating with them is apparently bad for business.

So long as Vermont’s conservative business chambers (who represent the legislative interests of many small businesses who are otherwise cannabis-friendly) remain opposed to legalization, the burden of establishing industry legitimacy will fall to responsible members of the cannabis and hemp community. To some degree, this will necessitate that the presently siloed, fractious and competing interests come together and promote the Vermont cannabis brand.

If chamber interests maintain their opposition, it will inevitably require the formation of a new community-led organization that can effectively pursue the legislative interests of the local cannabis and hemp industries, and not just the narrow interests of the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries. While support from the local business community and the State of Vermont remains lukewarm, there will be a significant opportunity for those with a vested interest in seeing cannabis and hemp succeed, to help shape, nurture, and profit in the industry to come.

Editor’s Note: Steve May is a licensed independent clinical social worker specializing in addiction medicine, a member of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Advisory Board, and a member of the Richmond Selectboard.

 

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