Ahead of Marijuana Legalization, Entrepreneurs See All Sorts Of Opportunities In Vermont

May 17, 2018

Vermont's marijuana legalization law doesn't create a market to sell it, but that hasn't stopped people from finding ways to capitalize on legal cannabis.

Over the weekend, around 1,500 people attended a cannabis and hemp convention in South Burlington.

Attendees could listen to talks that ranged from tips on how to grow cannabis to best practices for marketing a cannabis business. There were also over 50 businesses at the conference, many from Vermont, that were already in the industry or looking to break in.

Despite never attending a cannabis convention before, some things — like the person dressed up in a bong costume, 420 jokes and reggae music — were not surprising.

But at first glance, some of the companies that were there were a little unexpected — such as Vermont Security.

"We do alarm, video and automation, and we're looking to get into this space and support this industry." — Jesse Harper, Vermont Security

“We do alarm, video and automation, and we’re looking to get into this space and support this industry,” said Jesse Harper, who was sitting at the company’s table in the exhibition hall.

Harper said once people can start growing marijuana at home, they’ll want to secure their plants.

“You want to have a monitored product and if you’re complying with all the laws, then there’s no reason that you wouldn’t want the police to come and, you know, protect your property,” he said.

On July 1, adults age 21 years and older will be able to possess, cultivate and consume marijuana in Vermont, but not sell it. However, businesses like Vermont Security see an opportunity to expand to a new market — and they’re not the only ones.

"People can take what they already know and apply it to cannabis — so I say go with your strengths." — Monica Donovan, Heady Vermont CEO

Amid the hemp growers and CBD products, were other businesses you might expect at any trade show — like a cybersecurity company, a marketing company, even a real estate agent. The only difference here was they were focused on cannabis.

Heady Vermont, a cannabis advocacy organization, was one of the organizers of the convention. CEO Monica Donovan said legalization opens up a lot of business opportunities.

“It doesn’t have to be growing, it can be an ancillary business,” she said. “You can do, you know, IT [information technology], you can do apps, you can provide grow supplies … So people can take what they already know and apply it to cannabis — so I say go with your strengths.”

White River Growpro displays a grow tent and hemp plant at the Vermont Cannabis and Hemp Convention. The company expects more people will be interested in learning how to grow their own marijuana once it is legal in July.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

Donovan said she's expecting a lot of people will be trying to grow their own pot — and because a lot of these people haven't tried growing before, entrepreneur Jessilyn Dolan sees an opportunity.

Dolan and her partner started HomeGrown Consulting to help people grow recreational and medicinal cannabis. They also have another consulting company to help farmers grow hemp.

“We're basically wanting to set people up to help them grow, from seed to finish,” Dolan said. “Whether they need help building out their room, setting it up ... and then all the way to the end, if someone wants to make their own butter or make their own salve or what they want to do with their product.”

But besides helping people grow or protect their cannabis — where else might the industry go?

According to Timothy Fair, a lawyer specializing in cannabis law, there’s a lot of room for creativity.

"Things like cannabis tourism, cannabis biking tours, cannabis hiking tours, cannabis bed-and-breakfasts ... These are the types of things where you can incorporate cannabis into pre-existing business models with a lot of success." — Lawyer Timothy Fair, Vermont Cannabis Solutions

“Because of the lack of regulations we’re seeing yet, things like cannabis tourism, cannabis biking tours, cannabis hiking tours, cannabis bed-and-breakfasts … These are the types of things where you can incorporate cannabis into pre-existing business models with a lot of success,” Fair said.

Even though Vermont won’t have a regulated market for selling recreational marijuana, Fair said he’s heard from two potential clients who want to start businesses that offer "free gifts" of cannabis when you buy another product.

“And I’ve told both those potential clients that they’re likely be test cases … and that if they want to do this, they need to be ready that they could very well be prosecuted," Fair said. "Convicted, that’s a whole different story,” 

"Vermont has a great niche, has a great name, has that brand-respected status. And I think we can and will be the leaders on the East Coast." — Jessilyn Dolan, HomeGrown Consulting

Like pretty much everyone at the convention, Fair is excited about the potential in Vermont’s cannabis industry. He’s even started his own law firm, Vermont Cannabis Solutions, to help entrepreneurs navigate the law.

Dolan, at HomeGrown Consulting, thinks Vermont can lead the industry in the Northeast.

“Vermont has a great niche, has a great name, has that brand-respected status," she said. "And I think we can and we will be the leaders on the East Coast.”

For many at the convention, they’re hoping to position themselves early because they say a fully regulated cannabis market is just around the corner.