A bill that would legalize marijuana sales in Vermont cleared a House committee on Thursday.
The tax-and-regulate legislation was approved by the Senate in March following several committee votes in that body. Its first stop in the larger chamber was the House Committee on Government Operations, which approved the bill, with some changes, in a 10-1 vote.
Last year, Vermont became the first state to legalize cannabis through the legislature, as opposed to a citizen-led ballot initiative. But lawmakers declined to include provisions allowing marijuana to be purchased from a licensed retailer, instead simply allowing low-level possession and home cultivation.
Under the new bill, cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent, and individual municipalities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent local tax. It would also establish a five-person Cannabis Control Board to approve licenses and regulate the marijuana market.
The commission would begin approving licenses for marijuana cultivators and integrated licensees on February 15, 2021, for testing laboratories on April 1, 2021, for product manufacturers and wholesalers on May 15, 2021 and for retailers on July 15, 2021.
The committee estimated that Vermont would take in anywhere from $4 million to $8 million in revenue in the first year of retail cannabis sales.
Projected costs and revenue projections related to cannabis regulation legislation being considered in House Gov Ops right now.
— Taylor Dobbs (@taylordobbs) May 2, 2019
“Today’s vote is yet another indication of the strong, tri-partisan support we’ve painstakingly built in the Vermont House over the past several years,” Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment. “Vermonters of all political stripes recognize that regulating cannabis sales is better for public health and safety than either prohibition or decriminalization.”
During Thursday’s hearing, the committee voted to bar marijuana companies from sponsoring events like marathons, with some lawmakers concerned that the sponsorship would essentially function as an advertisement for the company.
Vote: The committee will not allow cannabis companies to be acknowledged as sponsors. #VTpoli
— Taylor Dobbs (@taylordobbs) May 2, 2019
Another change, reported by Seven Days, would require communities to affirmatively opt in to allowing marijuana stores.
The committee also agreed to limit the amount of THC allowed in a single-serve dose to five milligrams, whereas it was previously set at 10 milligrams.
— Dave Silberman (@DaveSilberman) May 2, 2019
Before heading to the House floor, the legalization legislation will have to go before the chamber’s Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees because it involves tax and spending plans.
If the bill ultimately makes it to the full floor, advocates are hopeful that the chamber’s Democratic gains in last year’s midterm election will give it enough support to make it to the governor’s desk.
“I look forward to quick progress through the House money committees, and then to what promises to be an overwhelmingly positive vote on the House floor,” Silberman said.
Gov. Phil Scott (R) said last month that he wouldn’t sign legislation to tax and regulate marijuana unless the legislature passed a bill to allow roadside saliva testing to assuage his concerns about impaired driving. The bill was amended to include a compromise: law enforcement who suspect an individual of driving under the influence can obtain a search warrant to test the individuals saliva, but the suspect must also provide the sample at the police department rather than on the roadside.
Another addition—not directly related to the scope of the cannabis legislation—concerns penalties for driving without a seatbelt, a provision recommended by House Transportation Chair Rep. Curt McCormack (D), who was seeking a legislative vehicle for the language.
Scott also wants some of the tax revenue from marijuana sales to go toward drug education and prevention, which Democrats are open to, and he also wants local municipalities to be able to opt out of the cannabis market.
But even if the governor’s issues aren’t ultimately resolved, it wouldn’t necessarily seal the bill’s fate. The Senate’s 23-5 vote in March is veto-proof, so if enough House members approve the legislation, the legislature could potentially override a veto.
Among the members voting to advance the amended bill through committee on Thursday are deputy minority leader Rob LaClair and former police officer John Palasik, both Republicans.
“Cannabis has been legal for adults in Vermont for the better part of a year, and it’s time for it to be regulated and taxed in order to protect public health and safety,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “This legislation reflects years of careful study and deliberation, and it proposes a thoughtful and measured approach to establishing a legal cannabis market.”
A spokesperson for Scott recently said that there is “still opportunity to reach consensus” on cannabis sales and that the governor is “not at the point at which he will draw lines on issues.”
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.