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Vermont On The Precipice Of Legalizing Marijuana Sales

Vermont On The Precipice Of Legalizing Marijuana Sales

Marijuana may be legal in Vermont, but there are no dispensaries slinging pre-rolls and dab pens because a retail framework has not yet been established.

The Legal Status of Marijuana in Vermont

In January of 2018, Vermont made cannabis history by becoming the first state in the union to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers, instead of through a ballot initiative. At that point, they were the ninth state to end prohibition. The bill allowed for residents of the Green Mountain State above the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use, and to cultivate no more than two cannabis plants.

The bill, however, did not make permissible the sale of marijuana. So while Vermonters won’t find themselves in trouble with the law for simply having cannabis in their possession, the process of actually acquiring it has not changed all that much since becoming legal.

The History of S. 54

Almost exactly one year after legalizing marijuana, the Vermont State Senate produced another bill—one that would allow Vermont to create a taxable cannabis market akin to what we see in states like Washington and Colorado. That piece of legislation, titled S. 54, was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate with a veto-proof majority of 23 to 5. However, that was just the beginning.

Fast forward another year—S. 54 made its way to the House, where it was subject to amendments. Most of which were related to tax structure, and included opening an education fund where tax revenue from cannabis sales would be directly deposited. This move was seen as an appeal to Republican Governor Phil Scott, who despite originally opposing legalizing marijuana sales, implied he might come around on the issue if the tax revenue could be used to fund his after school proposal.

The bill officially cleared the house in February of this year. 

Where is S. 54 Now?

Currently, two versions of S. 54 exist—the original Senate bill, and the House’s iteration with the added amendments. Vermont legislators appointed members to a bicameral conference committee to merge the two versions into one back in March, but much to the chagrin of marijuana advocates, the committee has not yet been authorized to meet. In May, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) told Marijuana Moment that S. 54 would have to take a back seat to the pandemic. “Our attention, I believe rightly, has been entirely on the COVID crisis and making sure that we get Vermonters through this very intense desperate period,” said Johnson.

However, on Wednesday, August 5 Johnson’s chief of staff told Marijuana Moment in an email that “S.54 is currently in a committee of conference and we expect that committee to meet during the August/September legislative session. That’s consistent with what the leader said during a June telephone town hall, where she said they were ‘aiming to get it passed in August.’”

The Future of S. 54

While S. 54 is only a few weeks away from reaching the seemingly supportive bicameral committee that will be responsible for deciding it’s fate, there’s still one more hurdle to clear—and it’s a big one.

After the committee reconciles the bill’s two versions into one, and both chambers approve it, that final piece of legislation will land on Governor Phil Scott’s desk. Once there, Scott will have the option to either sign it into law, or veto it. Scott has historically been opposed to legalization, but has also indicated that he may be open to S. 54 depending on where the tax revenue was spent. Since taking office, Governor Scott has vetoed both a family leave plan, and a minimum wage increase.

Vermont Lawmakers Push To Expand Marijuana Legalization

Vermont Lawmakers Push To Expand Marijuana Legalization

Barely three months after successfully passing legislation to legalize low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation, Vermont lawmakers are pushing to add a statewide system of taxed and regulated cannabis sales.

A coalition of Democratic, Republican and Progressive lawmakers in the House moved on Thursday to take up marijuana commercialization legislation that already passed the Senate last year.

“I believe we have the votes, and I believe at the end of the day we will have a surprising number of votes with a tripartisan coalition,” Dave Silberman, a Middlebury attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment in an interview.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D), however, said that now is not the time to push broader legalization, and Gov. Phil Scott (R), who only reluctantly signed the noncommercial legalization bill into law in January after previously vetoing another version, is unlikely to support the expansion.

Silberman said that supportive lawmakers are moving to amend the Senate-passed bill, H.167, with a focus on smaller-scale businesses and co-ops. He added that a significant number of lawmakers who have concerns with legalization and opposed the earlier bill are now more likely to back moves to regulate the cannabis trade in light of the fact that possession and homegrow will be legal in the state starting on July 1.

“Quite a few said, ‘now that it’s legal, I think tax-and-regulate’s a better model,’” Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (VPP) told VPR radio. “So if Progressives, the Republicans that think this is the better way, and the many Democrats that inherently support this come together, I think we have a majority.”

The bill and several proposed amendments have been placed on the House calendar for Friday, but it is unlikely to see action until next week.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Vermont Lawmakers Push To Expand Marijuana Legalization

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