Spring is in the air and it’s a signal that the 2022 Legislative Session is coming to a conclusion in the near future. The goal, at the moment, is to end the Session on May 6, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went another week after that. In any case, those of us in leadership are spending a certain amount of time counting backwards to determine the drop dead-date for getting bills out of our committees.
There are two bills in the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee (HAFC) that we have been working on. S.188 is an act relating to regulating licensed small cannabis cultivation as farming. It would allow small cannabis cultivators (1,000 square feet) to be considered and regulated as farming, much like hemp production is currently regulated. It would change some of the requirements for how the cannabis is grown and would allow licensed cultivators to purchase and sell seeds and immature plants to one another and for licensed wholesalers to also sell seeds and plants to licensed cultivators.
It is being suggested by the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (AAFM) and the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) that the Hemp Program, currently under AAFM, be brought under the authority of the CCB for several reasons. In other states where adult-use (high THC) cannabis is legal, there has been a dramatic increase in cultivators growing high THC cannabis and claiming it is hemp. Having both hemp and adult-use cannabis under the same body would streamline inspections, create consistency, eliminate duplicative activities, ensure consumer safety, and assure that cultivators are growing what they are licensed to grow. If we take this step, hemp growers would be under the USDA Hemp Program, which is free, and they would no longer pay registration fees to the state. Since both entities agree to and support this plan, it is likely that we will move forward and amend these provisions to S.188.
We are also reviewing S.258, an act relating to agricultural water quality, enforcement, and dairy farming, which is half of the Housekeeping Bill. It deals with good standing for agency grants, waste storage facilities, management of non-sewage waste, the Capital Equipment Assistance Program, the Farm Agronomic Practices Program, and the extension of the Task Force to Revitalize the Vermont Dairy Industry. Typically, the entire Housekeeping Bill starts in our committee and moves to the Senate but this year, the Senate was willing to take up half of it.
As I wrote last week, we have been taking testimony on S.268, which is a bill relating to the Right to Farm in Vermont. S.268 did not make it out of the Senate before crossover, but it has been suggested that because a lot has changed in farming since 2003 when we passed our original Right to Farm Bill, that we consider updating it. There is a desire to clarify some of the newer practices that are currently employed in light of climate change, carbon sequestration, water quality issues, and regenerative agricultural practices. It is not our intention to eliminate the “rebuttable presumption,” as S.268 calls for.
We are considering amending the clarifying language that was in S.268 regarding the definition of agricultural activities and what is included in farm operations. This makes a lot of sense since there have been many changes in agricultural practices over the last nineteen years. With the growing pressure of people moving to Vermont from urban settings, combined with the growing disconnect between food production and consumers, we feel that updating this legislation is crucial to the protection of both farmers and their neighbors. We have taken testimony from farmers who have struggled with people not understanding farming practices and farm neighbors who feel that some farm practices create an unnecessary nuisance and negatively affect their quality of life. Our job is to find a balance that ensures the ability of our farmers to continue to operate and be productive while ensuring a fair quality of life for all Vermonters.
At the same time all of this is going on, I am preparing to attend the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival at the beginning of May. The show was cancelled for the last two years due to the pandemic, and my hope is that it will be as successful as the New York Sheep and Wool Festival was last October. Preparation includes dyeing yarn and fiber and carding seemingly endless colors of carded batts for felters and spinners. The silver lining is that it’s a good contrast to my legislative work and provides vital income to help keep our farm going. As the Legislative Session ends, we will be expecting our new crop of lambs, which is always exciting and, yes, a lot of work.
The signs of spring are all around us with bulbs coming up and the grass greening. Montpelier is way ahead of Windham. On warm days, folks are already using the State House lawn for picnics and Frisbee, and I suspect that when I get back to Montpelier this week, the skating rink will be taken down. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a state where people can freely use the State House facilities for so many activities and legislators are exceptionally accessible to their constituents, which is not the case in most other states.