BRANDON — A local medical marijuana dispensary plans to double in size and hire several more people in the coming year.
Spencer Bell has been the director of cultivation at Grassroots Vermont for the past three years. He said Friday that business has been growing steadily, almost exponentially, since he came on board.
Grassroots Vermont is one of the state’s five licensed medical-marijuana dispensaries. It opened off Lovers Lane in 2013. Bell, who moved here from Chicago, said when he started, it employed four people including himself. Today, 16 people work at the 7,000-square-foot facility. Most of them are full-time, he said. About six were added just this year.
“In the last year, we’ve rebuilt all of our rooms and essentially redid our whole system,” Bell said. “If you came here a year ago this place would look totally different. We sheet-rocked all of our rooms, got new tables, all new lights, all new equipment.”
Bell said these improvements have raised the number of plants grown by 84 percent. The facility can now produce 200 kg of plant material every year.
About 800 square feet is devoted to flowering marijuana plants, he said. The next renovation project is set to begin Jan. 15 and be complete by March.
“We’re essentially doubling everything we do. We’re setting up for a much bigger market,” he said.
Bell said the dispensary has seen a steady increase in customers over the years, but much of the increased production will be to supply a satellite dispensary it plans to start up in Williston. Bell said there’s a lease agreement in place and the company has all the needed town-level permits — it’s just waiting on permission from the Department of Public Safety.
“All the building we’re doing is strictly for the medical market,” he said. “Essentially, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to meet the demand of the medical market and open a second dispensary in Williston.”
He said Chittenden County is where most of the state’s medical marijuana customers reside, and given it only has one dispensary, it’s underserved.
While it’s now legal in Vermont to possess a small amount of marijuana for recreational use, there’s no legal recreational market. The Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission recently finished a statewide listening tour, and is scheduled to complete a report about how to create and implement a taxed and regulated market. State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, said this week at a listening session that he and others intend to introduce a bill this session to create a legal market.
“We would definitely have to expand to serve a recreational market,” Bell said. “If this were all fully built out, it would only serve our Williston dispensary and our medical customers. We wouldn’t have enough product for a recreational market.”
He said a much larger facility than the one Grassroots has now would be needed. The company is eyeing such a facility, but given how slow the legislative process is, it would be a few years before anything could begin to happen.
“What I expect is (the Legislature will) get the recommendation, the governor will say he’s not going to sign it, they’re going to pass it, the House and the Senate will override him, it won’t go into effect until 2021,” Bell said.
Massachusetts legalized recreational sales nearly two years ago, and only recently have the first stores opened.
“Even if we got a permit tomorrow, we’d still be 6 to 8 months away from having anything on our shelves,” he said.
“Vermont has already missed the boat in my opinion,” he added, saying Massachusetts currently dominates the legal, recreational marijuana market on the East Coast.