Feb 2, 2018 1:29 PM

To grow marijuana legally in Vermont, know the law

Here are a few key rules to know in Vermont's new marijuana legalization law, which takes effect on July 1, 2018.

Home-grown marijuana will become legal in Vermont on July 1, meaning those who plant seeds on legalization day will have a short inaugural growing season.

Vermonters will be allowed to cultivate a total of six plants per home, including up to two mature female plants that have flowered.

It's not legal to start seeds before July 1, and anyone caught with small amounts of marijuana could still face a civil penalty until then. Marijuana remains illegal in federal law.

Even after possession is legalized, there will be no legal way to buy marijuana or seeds in Vermont, unless the grower is a registered medical marijuana patient. Legalization advocates argue that people who are interested in growing marijuana probably have access already. The main difference after legalization, they say, will be the lifting of penalties and stigma.

"I think it’s more of a psychological milestone than it is a practical milestone," said Timothy Fair, an attorney who consults hemp and cannabis-related businesses.

Under the new law, any marijuana cultivation must be done on personal property, or with the written permission of the property owner, in a secure enclosure that is "screened from public view." Certain locations, such as child care properties, are entirely off-limits.

It's unclear whether Vermont municipalities will be able to further regulate home-grown marijuana. Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon, for example, has said he wants to require marijuana growers to be licensed, citing safety concerns such as fire risk from grow lights. Nothing in the new law specifically authorizes towns to impose these restrictions.

Legalization begins in the middle of Vermont's outdoor growing season, but Cary Giguere, the agrochemical program manager for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said it would still be possible for growers to legally harvest their plants in 2018.

"Starting in July doesn't preclude a decent harvest here in Vermont," said Giguere, who has worked on a regulatory framework for marijuana from an agricultural perspective.

If a seed is planted in July, Giguere said growers could have a marijuana crop by mid-September to mid-October, depending on a number of factors.

More: Vermont governor signs marijuana bill with 'mixed emotions'

"It's sort of, I would say, like tomatoes," Giguere said. "You know, there are people who grow really good tomatoes, and there are people who plant a whole bunch of plants and don't get any."

The new law takes a hands-off approach to marijuana, and it's not clear what kind of regulations or guidance will be available to growers on July 1.

Giguere hopes his office will be able to give advice about pesticides, though people growing a handful of plants have a lower risk of pests compared to medical dispensaries.

"We don't want people using things that’ll make them sick," Giguere said. "You see a lot of recalls out west."

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