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’s Democratic-led legislature passed a bill to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation of marijuana earlier this year. Now, party activists are calling on lawmakers to expand on that by allowing a system of legal cannabis production and sales.
“We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity,” reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party’s platform convention on Sunday.
The limited legalization bill was signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott (R) in January.
While Scott, who is up for reelection this year, has said the state won’t be ready to go further until better solutions to address impaired driving are formulated, Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist is all-in on expanded legalization, pledging to “work with the legislature to ensure that a tax and regulate system was passed into law in my first term.”
Democratic leaders in both chambers of the legislature brought the noncommercial legalization proposal to votes last session, but House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) has been reluctant about adding tax and regulate. Meanwhile, the Senate has already passed legislation to legalize cannabis sales.
Advocates hope that the Democratic Party’s new official position in support of expanding to a regulated commercial system of legalization like ones that exist in eight other states will encourage Johnson and other top lawmakers to prioritize moving a bill early in 2019.
“The Vermont Democratic Party has now officially and fully embraced the position that regulating the production and sale of cannabis is the smart way to achieve improvements in public health and safety – a position strongly supported by the general public,” Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment.
“From the party officials at the dais, to the grassroots members on the platform convention floor, support for regulation was vocal, even amongst delegates who opposed homegrow legalization,” added Silberman, who authored the language of the new platform plank as a delegate at the convention over the weekend. “This sends Vermonters an unambiguous message ahead of November’s election: a vote for Democratic legislators is a vote for tax-and-regulate.”
Meanwhile, the party is also pushing for broader drug policy reforms that go beyond cannabis.
“We recognize that the ‘War on Drugs’ has been disproportionately focused on people of color and those with low incomes, and urge the adoption of non-discriminatory, public health-based approaches,” reads an additional new platform plank.
“We believe that Vermont’s policies towards drug use and abuse should be motivated by a desire to reduce harm, rather than to punish undesirable private behavior,” says another.
A third new plank touches on the far-reaching effects of drug and other convictions: “We support ensuring that the collateral consequences of criminal convictions do not last a lifetime, by enabling more people to clear their records after having repaid their debt to society. To do this, we must expand access and reduce financial and bureaucratic barriers to expungement.”
On a voice vote, delegates defeated a proposed plank calling for the decriminalization of all drugs. The party’s 2016 platform called for “exploration of the decriminalization of drug use and instead treating it as a health and mental health issue” but was silent on cannabis specifically.
“The feeling the room was that while almost all support alternatives to incarceration, the party was not quite yet ready to fully embrace decriminalization,” Silberman said.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Vermont Democratic Party Calls For Marijuana Legalization Expansion
In January, Vermont became the ninth state to legalize marijuana—and the first to end cannabis prohibition through an act of lawmakers, rather than a ballot initiative. But with the law set to take effect on July 1, questions remain about how the recreational system will actually function.
What you need to know
Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) signed the adult-use legalization bill, H. 511, into law on January 22. The governor said that he had “mixed feelings” about the legislation, but added that he believed “what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children.”
The law permits adults 21 and older to:
- Possess up to an ounce of cannabis, or five grams of hashish.
- Grow “two mature and four immature marijuana plants” on private property in a secured enclosure that’s kept out of public sight.
- Those plants wouldn’t count toward the one ounce possession limitation.
- If you don’t own the property, you’d have to get the property owner’s permission before cultivating cannabis.
“Consumption of marijuana in a public place or in a vehicle is prohibited as is possession of an open container of marijuana in a vehicle, and violations are subject to civil penalties,” a summary of the bill text explains. There are also penalties for providing or “enabling consumption” of marijuana to individuals under 21.
The legislation doesn’t explicitly address marijuana “gifting,” which has served as a way to circumvent market restrictions in certain legal jurisdictions like the District of Columbia.
Employers are still allowed to enforce policies against consuming, cultivating or displaying marijuana in the workplace.
If an employer has a no-tolerance drug policy, employees can be fired for violating that policy even if they use cannabis outside the workplace. However, the Vermont Attorney General’s office cautioned employers when it comes to penalizing medical cannabis patients suffering from debilitating conditions in a recent guidance report:
“Under [Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act], it is unlawful for any employer, employment agency, or labor organization to discriminate against a “qualified individual with a disability.” Discrimination means not only intentional mistreatment of a disabled employee or applicant, but also failure to provide a reasonable accommodation to that individual… employees carrying a medical marijuana card and those dealing with substance abuse issues may be protected under VFEPA’s disability provisions.”
The new system does not provide access to cannabis seeds or products at dispensaries, as is the case in other states where recreational marijuana is legal. And that’s where things start to get tricky.
Where are adult users supposed to obtain cannabis or seeds to grow their own plants if there’s no legal retail system in place? If you’re a registered medical marijuana patient, who does have access to dispensaries that sell cannabis and seeds, then you could hypoathetically circumvent that issue; but for adults outside the medical system, the conflicting regulations could create headaches.
“Legalization advocates argue that people who are interested in growing marijuana probably have access already,” The Burlington Free Press reported. “The main difference after legalization, they say, will be the lifting of penalties and stigma.”
The winding road to non-commercial legalization in Vermont
While Vermont made history in January by becoming the first state to pass a legalization measure through the legislature, it wasn’t necessarily a smooth path to reform. It’s taken about two years, since the state Senate first voted in favor of a tax and regulate legalization bill—which the House ultimately rejected.
Even as recently as April, Vermont lawmakers attempted to rally support for a commercial legalization bill but were defeated in a floor vote. But House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) and others cautioned that the timing wasn’t right, considering the fact that the governor had just signed the non-commercial legalization bill into law just three months prior.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D) told Vermont Public Radio in April that regardless of the fate of the eleventh-hour effort to move a tax and regulate legalization bill forward, it would only be a matter of time.
“This vote does not reflect the sentiment of the people, and when the sentiment of the people is reflected in this body, it will move forward,” Zuckerman said.
Are medical marijuana patients being left behind as the state prepares to implement its recreational system?
Though adult users won’t have a legal way to obtain cannabis or seeds under the law, there are a number of other differences in how laws apply to medical patients and recreational consumers. For example, adults over 21 are allowed to grow up to six plants outdoors, whereas medical patients can grow up to nine plants—but they’re required to keep their grows indoors.
Also, while harvested cannabis doesn’t count toward a recreational user’s one ounce possession restriction, harvested plants do count toward medical patients two ounce possession restriction.
“I’ve heard concerns from several medical cannabis patients and their loved ones that they cannot get clear guidance from anyone in state government regarding how many plants they are allowed to grow for their own use, and how they may grow them,” Dave Silberman, a Middlebury, Vermont attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment.
“Many patients are wondering whether these rights can be ‘stacked,’ such that, for example, a married couple consisting of one registered medical patient and one non-patient could legally grow four mature plants (two for “adult use” and two for “symptom relief”),” he said.
There is currently a bill being considered in special session that aims to reconcile some of these regulatory differences, according to The Burlington Free Press. Among other things, the bills seeks to impose “locked container transport” requirements that are currently in effect for medical patients but do not apply to adult users. It would also clarify the state’s prohibition on providing cannabis to individuals under 21 under the recreational system, as medical patients may be under 21 and the law doesn’t offer assurances to medical caregivers that they wouldn’t be penalized under the new law.
“Vermont’s homegrow law is a great first step, but is incomplete,” Silberman said. “Despite the failure to move [a more wide-ranging legalization bill, H. 490] forward this past session, I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to move forward quickly in 2019 with a comprehensive bill to establish a regulated market and clear up the inconsistencies between the current ‘adult use’ and ‘medical’ regimes, as more and more legislators are coming to understand the reality that it’s the same damned cannabis either way.”
In the meantime, beginning on July 1, adults over 21 in Vermont will finally be able to legally use, possess and grow marijuana without a doctor’s recommendation.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
A Guide To Vermont’s New Marijuana Legalization Law
Instead of collecting signatures and going through a long and expensive campaign process, Vermont has been pursuing a purely legislative path towards legalizing marijuana.
Over the past year, state legislatures have been mulling over the details of the bill that would legalize marijuana in the Green Mountain State. It would outlaw citizens from growing cannabis at home as well as the sale of edible products. Like other states who have successfully passed legislation, a 25 percent sales tax on marijuana would fund regulation and enforcement.
“It makes for a much more thoughtful and measured approach,”
said State Senator Jeanette White, who sponsored the senate bill. “We got to work out the details, we got to ask the questions first and put the whole infrastructure in place before it happens.”
The state commissioned a study by the Rand Coproration in 2015, which indicated that one out every eight residents in Vermont already use marijuana. Due to the high use of cannabis in Vermont, and the general increase in adult use and support for legalization (58 percent) in the United States, legislators and law enforcement have both commented on the need to support public interest instead of fighting against it.
“If it’s one in eight, to me that tells me that we need to change, that society for the most part is accepting it,”
said Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark.
“If 12 or 13 percent of the population is not being open with law enforcement when we’re out trying to investigate serious crimes, then that is holding us back from working with our communities.”
The bill faces a few key obstacles. First, the bill must be passed by the current legislative session on or the end of May in order to move forward. Governor Peter Shumlin, who is finishing his final year in office, has announced his support for legalization and is pushing for a resolution by the May deadline.
Second, the bill faces strong opposition from conservative politicians. “Many of our members are opposed to this proposal and I don’t know that it can be changed enough for them to change their minds,” said Representative Donald Turner, the House Republican leader. “I don’t feel there is a good argument for legalizing it at this point.”
These sentiments are shared by groups who view marijuana as simply another drug in a state that also suffers from the opioid epidemic.
“The questions that keep coming up for me is, how will this make Vermont healthier and how will this improve the quality of life? I don’t think this bill does it,”
said Debby Haskins, executive director of Smart Alternatives for Marijuana-Vermont. “It’s the wrong direction for us to be heading.”
Despite this, other states are already investigating marijuana’s ability to treat opioid addiction.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) made clear in his annual State of the State speech that he intends to pursue full legalization of cannabis throughout the state, offering an outline for a plan that is historic in its ambition.
Shumlin stressed the importance of taking the distribution of cannabis outside of the hands of black-market dealers.
“The outdated War on Drugs has…failed, and there is no greater example than our nation’s marijuana laws,”
said Shumlin in the address. “But the black market of drug dealers selling marijuana for recreational use is alive and well, serving over 80,000 Vermonters who reported using marijuana last year. These illegal dealers couldn’t care less how young their customers are or what’s in the product they sell, or what illegal drugs you buy from their stash, much less whether they pay taxes on their earnings.”
Shumlin listed five requirements that would need to be met under any legalization framework:
- First, a legal market must keep marijuana and other drugs out of the hands of underage kids. The current system doesn’t. Our new system must.
- Second, the tax imposed must be low enough to wipe out the black market and get rid of the illegal drug dealers.
- Third, revenue from legalization must be used to expand addiction prevention programs.
- Fourth, we must strengthen law enforcement’s capacity to improve our response to impaired drivers under the influence of Marijuana who are already on Vermont’s roads.
- Fifth, take a hard lesson learned from other states and ban the sale of edibles until other states figure out how to do it right.
Gov. Shumlin’s approach is unique because, instead of making marijuana legal through a ballot measure voted upon by Vermont citizens, he is instead seeking a legislative solution.
“We have a history of tackling difficult issues with respect and care, the Vermont way,” Shumlin continued in his speech.
“I believe we have the capacity to take this next step and get marijuana legalization done right.”
The move to move a measure through the state legislature has already won plaudits among experts in the field.
“It’s looking more and more likely that Vermont will be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislature instead of by a citizen ballot initiative,”
said Tom Angell, director of Project Oversight and Communications for Marijuana Majority. “This signals an important shift in the politics of marijuana.”