Vermont on the road to Legalization
Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan, legislative leaders and advocates gathered Thursday at the Statehouse to press for the adoption of a bill to establish a tax-and-regulate system for commercial cannabis.
Copeland-Hanzas said she expects to see the bill move to the House floor by”the middle” of the current session.
“After four years of additional research and deliberation… it seems clear to me that, in the year 2020, there is absolutely no state in the U.S. that’s more ready to regulate cannabis sales than Vermont,” said Matt Simon, political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national nonprofit.
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, a sponsor of S.54, stated that by failing to establish a legal market, Vermont is effectively”shipping tax dollars out of state.”
Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, who chairs the House Committee on Government Operations said she is”captaining” the cannabis bill’s passage in the lower chamber. The House is taking a”measured approach” to advancing the bill, she said, allowing any committees that have”jurisdiction over certain parts of the bill [to] have the chance to weigh in.”
Donovan echoed the opinion, contending it is”way past time” to create a legal marketplace for the drug. “It’s good for consumer protection, it’s good for general health, it is good for public safety and it is great for the state of Vermont,” he said.
The strategy, which ought to”reassure Vermonters that we’re taking the time to get it right,” has helped the House consider factors such as environmental impact, prevention of youth access and the appropriate tax rate, Copeland-Hanzas stated.
Sears said”there is always a path forward” for the House and Senate to agree on a version of this bill which also addresses the governor’s concerns. “We may have fights about opt in, opt out by communities, but we are ready to have these disagreements in a conference committee [and] see what we can work out,” he said.
In Williamstown, Massachusetts, just over the Vermont border, Sears said, there are currently two cannabis stores. “I would guarantee that a number of their clients are from Vermont and New York,” he said.
Donovan lamented that, although Vermont law allows adults to possess small amounts of cannabis legally, it is”absolutely silent on how they get it.”
The Vermont Senate last year passed a legalization bill, S.54, by a vote of 23 to 5. Committees in the House are currently considering the bill.
In advance of the legislative session, cities across the state adopted iterations of a model resolution developed by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that generally advocates over any system the Legislature might create.
The House bill will also address concerns raised last year by Gov. Phil Scott, including roadway safety and local control, Copeland-Hanzas said.
Versions of this bill in the House and Senate differ on the type and scope of taxes that would be imposed on sales, as well as on the question of whether cities would have to vote to opt in or out of hosting cannabis establishments, according to a Vermont League of Cities and Towns article. The House Committee on Government Operations’ version requires cities to opt in.
Sears said he hoped to have the bill ready for the governor’s signature before Town Meeting Day in March.