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Zenbarn Farms buys Curaleaf cannabis dispensaries in Vermont

The Waterbury-based company also purchased a growing facility from Curaleaf, a national corporation.

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Waterbury-based cannabis grower and retailer Zenbarn Farms has signed an agreement to acquire two dispensaries and a growing facility from Curaleaf, a Massachusetts-based cannabis company.

The two dispensaries — Vermont Patients Alliance in Montpelier and PhytoCare Vermont in Bennington — sell THC-based medical cannabis products. The change of hands comes amid concerns about the future of Vermont’s declining medical cannabis industry.

It also stands out as a unique instance of a large, national cannabis corporation selling assets to a small, locally owned business, according to Noah Fishman, co-owner of Zenbarn Farms. The company began as a CBD and hemp farm before opening up its THC-based recreational dispensary last year.

Brynn Hare, executive director of the Cannabis Control Board, said the group was excited to see the dispensaries pass over to Vermont ownership. “Nobody was thrilled” that the license for Vermont Patients Alliance went to an out-of-state company, she said.

Zenbarn plans to close the recreational side of the Montpelier dispensary, Fishman said.

Curaleaf has also come under scrutiny for alleged ties to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, a subject of international sanctions. Authorities in Massachusetts and Connecticut opened investigations into the company after Vice News reported on the connection.

Hare said the control board had been in touch with those states’ authorities and found those investigations “went nowhere.” According to those findings, any ties between Abramovich and Curaleaf ended before the company entered the Vermont market. Curaleaf did not respond to a request for comment before the publication deadline.

Hare was not familiar with Curaleaf’s specific reasons for selling but said, generally speaking, it is “pretty hard to maintain a profit when you’re a medical dispensary.”

Patients are pulling out of Vermont’s medical cannabis program in favor of simply purchasing products from recreational dispensaries. Hare said the administrative burden of registering and the narrow set of qualifying conditions seemed to be reasons for patients to favor the recreational market.

But there are downsides to the dwindling number of patients. If the medical market is not financially viable, certain patients could lose out on cannabis delivery or high-THC products that are only available from medical dispensaries, Hare said.

A legislative subcommittee has been working on a series of recommendations to help bolster the medical side of the cannabis market. Hare said the final report is expected next week.

Zenbarn is not planning to let go of any current employees at the medical dispensaries, but Fishman admitted the employees there had been working in an “uncertain situation” up to this point.

He said the medical market has been overshadowed by the recreational one, but Zenbarn was interested in the “holistic wellness” benefits of cannabis as part of its mission.

Zenbarn also planned to make the growing facility, located in Middlesex, a “world-class” example of cannabis cultivation, he said.

The facility is a year-round greenhouse that has natural and artificial lighting, making it more sustainable, he said. It will also use more “living soil” like a home garden rather than the chemical fertilizers he believes are too common in the industry.

Organic certification is not currently available for cannabis products, but Zenbarn still tries to follow organic farming practices, Fishman said.

Along with its cannabis business, Zenbarn operates a restaurant, studio and events venue in Waterbury.

Marlena Fishman, Noah’s wife and co-owner of Zenbarn, said the couple’s long-term goal is to open up Zenbarn’s cannabis business as a workforce development program for growers, retailers and other Vermont cannabis brands. She called it an opportunity for “creative minds” and people from diverse backgrounds to come together to work on a new vision for Vermont cannabis.

Vermont has a higher-than-average number of small cannabis growers. Hare said that 70% to 80% of growing licensees are considered “small cultivators” with 1,000 square feet or less of growing space.

She said that could put Vermont into a good position to become well known for its craft cannabis industry if the drug is federally legalized. But it could pose challenges as well since small growers don’t have the same capacity to navigate the state’s regulatory system as larger companies.

Noah Fishman said Zenbarn was a “community-based company” that centered its mission on more than creating wealth. Its focus is on bringing traditional and countercultural cannabis practices and the alternative wellness aspects of the cannabis movement into the modern era.


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