Hinesburg farmer and geneticist Thomas Popke has leased space and will be pursuing permits to open The Valley’s first retail cannabis store this fall. It will be named The Herb Collection.
The Waitsfield Development Review Board will hear the permit application this summer and Popke plans to open July 1 with CBC products and will sell cannabis products in October when legal cannabis sales begin. He plans to open in the Mad River Green Shops, at the south end in the space that used to hold Ideas and is currently a yoga studio.
But before retail sales begin, he will be working on manufacturing and processing products in that space. In addition to the retail outlet, he plans to open a café that sells cannabis and CBD infused foods and beverage in the former Collaborative Brewing space. In the café he plans to also showcase and sell cannabis and other related and local art. He will be seeking an integrated license from the state’s Cannabis Control Board to allow those uses.
Popke spent his high school years skiing and snowboarding at Sugarbush.
“We had the chance to pick anywhere to do this. But many moons ago, I said, we’re going to Waitsfield. I handpicked it. The Burlington market would be better, but I always dreamt I could do this in Waitsfield some day,” he said, adding that it would be his dream to buy a farm in The Valley for his home and for his farming and cultivar development operation.
Under the enabling legislation legalizing retail cannabis sales, host towns can enact a one percent local option tax on retail cannabis sales. Regardless of whether Waitsfield does this, Popke said he plans to collect one to two percent of retail sales and donate that sum to the town for public works projects and community needs. He also wants to establish a scholarship fund for Harwood Union students.
His current working farm in Hinesburg now, Opia Farm Genetics, is primarily dedicated to cannabis genetics and developing cultivars, although he has cycled through vegetable, perennial and annual farming and has raised cows and pork.
He has extensive experience in cultivar genetics and development, breeding and working in seed form. He developed 50 cultivars by the time he was 15, he said. He also has interests in cannabis cultivar production and growing with other partners in Massachusetts and Maine.
He’s been growing cannabis for many years and said he’s never agreed with the state and federal laws that kept it illegal. In 2004, when he was 24, he said he went down for the largest cultivation bust in the East Coast. He served time in federal prison for that bust which makes him a legacy cultivator, he said.