Vermont's decision to legalize marijuana might not seem like a game-changer compared to other states that have legalized recreational use recently. California's sheer population and the size of its economy both dwarf the New England state, but the way Vermont reformed its marijuana laws will nevertheless have ripple effects across the country.
"Vermont was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana possession through the legislature, rather than as a ballot initiative," Ryan Smith — CEO of LeafLink, the largest commerce marketplace for wholesale cannabis — told Civilized via email. "That means that politicians are growing more confident in their constituents' desire to legalize marijuana, which is consistently validated by national polls."
Smith is also the the first CEO of a cannabis-facing company to be listed on Forbes' '30 Under 30' list. And he's excited at how Vermont could potentially fuel the legalization movement's recent gains in the northeastern US.
"We're seeing momentum building on the East Coast, in much the same way Colorado sparked the progression toward legalization on the West Coast. As East Coast states begin to create a regulatory framework around cannabis, their neighbors will quickly see the value created next door. Patterns like this have become clear; for example, Governor Cuomo in New York, who was formerly opposed to more progressive cannabis legislation, was motivated by the recent news in New Jersey to appoint a special committee last week to thoroughly investigate how legal cannabis in his state would work."
Ryan G. Smith, CEO of LeafLink
However, aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs don't want other states copy the Vermont model to a T. Unlike other states, Vermont decided not to build a retail market for marijuana into their legislation to legalize the possession, cultivation and personal consumption of recreational cannabis. That means nobody can legally buy or sell pot in the state, which is disappointing to aspiring entrepreneurs.
But Smith thinks the Vermont approach will be an exception rather than a new norm for the movement.
"We think the way Vermont legalized is unique and don't expect as many states to follow this path when you compare it to the powerful economic benefits to states with retail markets like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and now California. We believe state governments will want to capitalize on the positive impacts of tax revenue from marijuana sales, much like Colorado did in balancing their public school budget."
And Vermont will probably open up a retail market down the road, so advocates and consumers shouldn't be discouraged by the state's current regulations.
"Patients and businesses alike should be excited about all steps forward, even if they are less than ideal," Smith added. "We've seen in a number of states stricter regulations begin the conversation around more progressive legislation, giving the industry and the people within it the opportunity to prove themselves. Once that happens, as it's been done many times before, the regulations evolve, too, and create more opportunity for all those involved."
And now that Vermont is onboard with reform, advocates can turn their attention to other states. Ryan predicts that we'll see movement in the Midwest as well as the Northeast this year.
"We're most excited about Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey, but there is a growing grouping of other East Coast states we're keeping our eyes on like Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware."
So we could see the number of legal states nearly double from 8 to 15 in one year, making 2018 the greatest year in cannabis history.