On June 26, Sarah Coshow, owner of Stash N’ Stowe in Waterbury received a letter from the Department of Liquor and Lottery.
For seven years, Coshow has sold glass paraphernalia associated with the smoking of cannabis at her small shop on Waterbury-Stowe Road. To sell the products, she needs a tobacco resale license, something she has maintained the whole time she has been open.
However, the letter told her that, effective July 1, she must either get a wholesale license or purchase all of her products from someone who has one.
For Coshow, who maintans a glass-blowing co-operative with her husband in Burlington, the news was both sad and a bit abrupt.
“On June 26, I receive the letter. On June 27, I receive a visit from an inspector with liquor control telling me about the change that’s going into effect on July 1,” she said. “That is really heartbreaking and my response was not very P.C. It’s not fair in my mind. They can do whatever they want, but give us time to prepare.”
This past legislative session, lawmakers passed a trio of laws intended to curb tobacco use by youth. Among other things, the new laws raise the smoking age to 21 and bans the online purchase of electronic cigarette products.
The legislation also requires all tobacco products to be purchased through someone with a tobacco wholesale license, which differs from the tobacco resale license required prior to July 1.
Act 22 “prohibits anyone from selling e-cigarettes, substances containing nicotine or otherwise intended for use with e-cigarettes, or tobacco paraphernalia unless the person is a wholesaler or purchased the items from a wholesaler.”
Despite the fact that glass pipes and bongs and the myriad variety of glass products — spoons, Sherlocks, chillums and bubblers — are more commonly used for cannabis, the Department of Liquor and Lottery are treating the products as if they are “tobacco paraphernalia.”
“The reality is that glass pipes have fallen into the purview of the Department of Liquor and Lottery because of years and years of the ruse that these items are used for tobacco,” said Skyler Genest, chief investigator for the Office of Compliance and Enforcement for the Department of Liquor and Lottery. “The reality is, these were always used for cannabis. In my 14 years in law enforcement, I’ve never encountered a person smoking tobacco out of a glass pipe.”
Coshaw and others are currently allowed to sell any stock they had prior to the law going into effect on July 1; in the meantime, inspectors are out in the field informing glass merchants of the change.
“My office is the Office of Compliance and Enforcement, and while there is no grace period, we are in the process of informing these licensees,” Genest said. “That isn’t to say we won’t perform enforcement eventually, but that is not our immediate goal.”
Taxes and confusion
Kayce Massey is the co-owner of Viceland, a chain of stores with locations in Waterbury Center, Johnson and Barre. Unlike Stash N’ Stowe, which does not sell any tobacco products, Viceland’s stores offer an array of tobacco products, including the electronic tobacco products targeted by the recent legislation.
In addition to facing the same wholesale-license dilemma as Stash N’ Stowe, Massey is facing another challenge — a 92 percent tax on electronic cigarettes and related products.
“There are people who are coming in who are looking to quit smoking and are looking for an electronic product,” Massey said.
In the world of electronic tobacco delivery, there are electronic cigarettes that deliver nicotine by vaporizing a liquid concentrate. There are also products — the most popular of which is JUUL — that use what is referred to as “salt delivery,” meaning it is a slightly different chemical than nicotine.
While nicotine levels can be regulated in an electronic cigarette, allowing a user to slowly decrease the nicotine level over time, the salt-delivery devices pack more nicotine than the average cigarette.
Also, they are much less expensive than an electronic cigarette.
“When people come in looking to quit, I never, ever point them toward a JUUL,” Massey said. “But now, with this tax, the JUUL is going to be a lot cheaper.”
And, much like the glass pipes and bongs, the electronic delivery devices are being treated like tobacco products, regardless of how they are used. More and more, cannabis users are employing electronic devices to vape cannabis concentrates, and there is a clue in the legislation that lawmakers are well aware of this.
The electronic delivery products — the same ones sold at Viceland, Stash N’ Stowe and elsewhere and are taxed at 92 percent — are not taxed when purchased at a licensed cannabis dispensary.
Rep. David Yacovone, D-Morrisville, who was one of the co-sponsors of the tobacco law, said he didn’t recall discussing how the legislation might affect the purveyors of cannabis-related products.
“I don’t think it was discussed that much, certainly not on the floor, but it sounds like it’s something that’s an easy fix,” he said. “Often times, we are managing unintended consequences a lot.”
Rep. Theresa Wood, D-Waterbury, is the clerk of the House Human Services Committee, which reviewed the tobacco legislation.
“From my recollection, it was not intended to affect those sorts of products,” Wood said. “The whole purpose was to limit Internet sales, because checking IDs on the Internet is problematic.”
Wood said lawmakers could address the issue when the legislature convenes next year.
“We didn’t receive any testimony that would have indicated an issue with this,” Wood said. “Now that it is being interpreted this way, things are coming to light that might not have been consistent with the intent of the legislation, but we won’t know until we return in January.”
Massey and Coshow are both in the process of dealing with the consequences, unintended or not.
“I do business with vendors in the United States and they’re not licensed in Vermont and there’s this whole layer of bureaucracy they’re not going to want to deal with,” Massey said. “I have to set up a whole new corporation, which is going to cost me more money.”
Coshow said the law will drive glassblowers out of the state.
“These guys are small-time guys who are lucky to pull in $30,000 a year. What do you expect to pull in from these guys? They’re just going to move,” she said. “The best thing about being a glassblower is we can pick up and do that anywhere in the world. There’s going to be nothing keeping us here, which is sad. If something can be amended or corrected to keep this little industry in Vermont, that would be great.”