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Bill to Legalize Recreational Sales in Vermont Advances in House

by Sarah Cawthon February 05, 2020

Vermont was able to successfully legalize possession and cultivation of marijuana for recreational use in 2018. Now, marijuana reform advocates in the state are working to finish what they started by passing S. 54, a bill that would regulate and tax cannabis sales. 

As the law currently stands in Vermont, low-level possession and home cultivation of marijuana is legal, but retail sales and marijuana businesses are not yet permitted.

A central concern among lawmakers has been the health and safety of consumers. By regulating the production and sale of marijuana, marijuana products will be required to be tested to ensure they are safe for consumption. Cynthia Seivwright, the director of the Vermont Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, has expressed that regulating marijuana commerce would better protect public health than the current policy does.

“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”

In February 2019, the state Senate voted in favor of the bill, and in May, the House Government Operations Committee approved it as well. However, as the session came to a close, it became evident that the legislation would not reach the House floor for a final vote despite its successful advancement in the committees. The House adjourned in May without completing its work, so the House resumed its efforts on the bill shortly after the 2020 session began in early January.

The Government Operations Committee added a few amendments before passing it in a unanimous vote on January 31. Some of the amendments include: modifying the timeline for implementation, clarifying zoning regulations and increased cooperation with the Vermont Department of Health in regards to crafting guidelines. The legislation could face additional amendments as the discussion continues.

On February 5, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to advance the legislation. It will now be debated by the Appropriations Committee before being sent to the House floor for a final vote. If it is passed, the House and Senate will reconcile differences in a conference committee and then send it to Gov. Phil Scott to be signed into law. 

“Today’s vote is another clear indicator that S. 54 enjoys strong momentum in the House,” said Matt Simo, New England political director for Marijuana Policy Project. “Vermonters are looking forward to seeing this bill become law in 2020 so the state can begin to reap the many benefits associated with sensible regulation of cannabis.”

The legislation, in its present form, would establish a government body to regulate the program and approve licenses for a variety of marijuana businesses, known as the Cannabis Control Board. The board would license retailers, cultivators, product manufacturers, wholesalers, labs and integrated licenses.

The board would license retailers, cultivators, product manufacturers, wholesalers, labs and a separate integrated license option. There will be only five allotted integrated licenses, allowing only one per dispensary.

Cultivator licenses will be tiered, and other licenses may be as well. Cultivation will be tiered based on square footage of the center, plant canopy size of the cultivation center or plant count for breeding stock.

Municipalities will have the option to prohibit the operation of marijuana establishments or a specific type of marijuana establishment within the municipality, which will remain in effect until rescinded by a majority vote.

Additionally, it would impose a 16 percent tax on marijuana sales with up to 30 percent of the resulting revenue allotted to substance misuse treatment programs.

The Cannabis Control Board will determine application and licensing fees once the bill has passed and the board has been established. The bill states that the board’s recommend fees should be designed to provide sufficient funding to meet the duties of the Cannabis Control Board. If the board establishes tiers within a licensing category, it will provide additional fee recommendations for each tier.

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  • a Marijuana Dispensary and Cultivation Financial Plan Template

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