This week Vermont’s House and Senate negotiators reached a final agreement on S. 54, which is legislation that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis sales. The state had initially legalized cannabis but didn’t make sales of the product legal. This had the effect of decriminalization but also left the market in a grey zone of uncertainty. Only two states took the route of legalizing cannabis but making sales illegal.
The next step is for the legislation to get a final vote from both the House and Senate and then if it passes, which is expected, it will go to Governor Phil Scott to sign. The Governor has not expressed whether he will sign it or not. However, a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project showed that 76% of voters in the state approve of creating a legal cannabis market.
Matt Simon, New England political director at the Marijuana Policy Project said, “This final agreement has been a long time coming. Legislators should be applauded for their patience and their persistence. Vermont urgently needs the jobs, business opportunities, and tax revenue that S. 54 will provide. We hope Gov. Scott will see the wisdom in signing this bill into law.”
Another reason the state could be prompted to move quickly is the devastation the pandemic has had on Vermont’s economy. The state relies heavily on tourism but has imposed an extremely restrictive map of the places where visitors can come from. Even owners of second homes in the state are told they can’t visit their own property if they reside in a county that has too many COVID-19 cases. Luckily for the state, the pandemic hit just as last year’s ski season was winding down, but then summer tourism was lackluster as the state put more restrictions on lodging. Now business owners are getting nervous about the upcoming leaf-peeping season and then the new ski season. In short, the state will need revenue since tax collections are down.
Key provisions of the bill include:
- Priority licensing for small cultivators
- Priority licensing for women and minority-owned businesses
- Independent lab testing of all cannabis sold to patients and adult consumers
- Creating a new independent commission to regulate medical and adult-use cannabis
- Requiring a search warrant prior to saliva testing, which could not be conducted roadside
MPP also noted that the legislature also appears poised to pass S. 234, a bill that would require the automatic expungement of all criminal records for past low-level cannabis possession offenses. The bill would also decriminalize possession of cannabis in amounts that are up to twice the legal limit for adults and reduce some cannabis penalties. You can read a full summary of the bill here.
Laura Subin, director of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana said, “Automatic, cost-free expungement of minor cannabis convictions is the right policy and now is the right time for it. This bill recognizes and takes a step towards repairing the horrific legacy of racism in the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws. It is also fair, commonsense legislation that will help break cycles of poverty and criminality.”