Long lines, strong demand and a celebratory atmosphere marked the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Vermont.
Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland, Flora Cannabis in Middlebury and Ceres Collaborative in South Burlington – the state’s first dispensaries to transition from medical to adult-use sales – all shared similar stories of success, enthusiasm, as well as a bit of exhaustion, after a historic day for Vermont and industry advocates everywhere.
“Spirits were great and people were just excited to be a part of it,” Ceres Chief Operating Officer Russ Todia said of Saturday’s adult-use launch.
“It was a day I’ll never forget.”
Despite the rosy recap, retailers did voice concerns of limited supply and product selection as cultivators and processors ramp up production.
Vermont retailers this year are projected to generate between $3 million and $5 million in recreational sales, growing to $120 million-$145 million by 2026, according to the 2022 MJBiz Factbook.
Sales in 2023 are projected to jump to $40 million-$65 million, greatly outpacing MMJ sales estimates of $10 million-$12 million.
Medical marijuana sales in Vermont are expected to remain flat through 2026.
The launch of rec sales in Vermont comes about two years after adult-use legislation became law without the governor’s signature.
About 50 retailers have prequalified for licensing.
Handling more traffic
Mountain Girl Cannabis welcomed more than 1,000 visitors Saturday and Sunday, doubling co-founder Josh MacDuff’s expectations of weekend turnout.
Aided by good weather, some consumers waited outside for two hours to peruse the store’s half dozen or so flower strains.
“Everybody who walked in bought flower,” MacDuff said. “We averaged probably a quarter of flower per transaction.”
The first customer at Flora Cannabis drove 90 miles to Middlebury and arrived two hours before opening.
He was among 300 others who visited on Saturday, a mix that included local and state politicians, business groups and legalization enthusiasts.
“It was wonderful to have that support from the community opening up a cannabis business,” Flora co-founder Dave Silberman said.
“This is a town of 8,000 people, including the college students. That kind of turnout is amazing.”
The dispensary, which devotes roughly 500 square feet to retail, handled about four times the typical number of daily transactions, offering nine strains of THC flower, two strains of CBD flower and an assortment of pre-rolls.
“It really shows the demand for legal cannabis around here in this small community is very strong,” Silberman said.
Ceres relied on its seasoned staff of budtenders to serve an influx of more than 650 shoppers, about 550 more than a good Saturday of business.
The retailer drew plenty of nearby college students as well as out-of-staters. Some came as far north as Quebec, Canada, and as far south as New Jersey.
Flower was king, according to Todia, as the store sold 7 pounds of product. Ceres also sold 300 vape cartridges and roughly 500 packages of edibles.
The fastest seller was distillate hash, a bit surprising since concentrates sold recreationally in Vermont have lower potency caps of 60% THC.
“We didn’t really know what to expect, but that far exceeded what we usually go through in the medical program,” Todia said.
Minor setbacks, inventory shortages
State regulators cautioned operators and consumers that delays in issuing licenses for outdoor cultivators could create supply challenges in the adult-use market’s early stages.
Those concerns are playing out in the first week.
With only six licensed manufacturers of any kind, and two operational testing labs, Mountain Girl struggled to procure edibles.
“We had zero concentrates,” MacDuff said. “We did have a few vape carts, but those went quickly.”
Flora’s Silberman expects his store to eventually generate half its revenue from non-flower products.
“We have none of those products available,” he said. “I hope within a week, we’ll start having gummies in.”
Beyond inventory concerns, overall operations went pretty smoothly at each store.
Only a few minor setbacks occurred, and operators dealt with them efficiently.
ATMs at Flora had a minor glitch on Saturday, forcing local staff to solve the problem in-store. Flora’s IT support specialist lives in Tampa, Florida, where his power and cell phone connectivity were down because of Hurricane Ian.
At the end the day, every transaction was accounted for and logged accurately.
“From a business perspective, it went well,” Silberman said.
Ceres received its adult-use license from the state’s Cannabis Control Board only a few days before the launch of recreational sales, prompting a 48-hour mad dash to label products accordingly and procure inventory.
“I think we’ve got enough product to meet maybe a three-week forecast,” Todia said.
“We’re just going to see how it goes and pivot as quick as we can.”
The new norm
If recent case studies hold true, Vermont adult-use retailers will likely see strong demand for months, considering limited product inventory and retail accessibility.
That scenario played out after the launch of adult-use sales in Illinois and Arizona and is becoming the norm nationwide as new recreational marijuana markets open under heavy regulation.
Meanwhile, the line outside Mountain Girl on Monday morning was getting longer, prompting MacDuff to cut the interview short.
“I really have to run,” he said. “I have to make sure we’re open.”
Chris Casacchia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.