A key panel of lawmakers in Vermont will meet on Wednesday to discuss a bill to tax and regulate marijuana that has already passed both the House and Senate in differing forms. The bicameral conference committee is one of the final steps in the process for the legislation, which has seen months of delays due to the coronavirus outbreak.
While Vermont legalized the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivation of two plants in 2018, there is currently no regulatory system in place that allows for retail sales. A bill to establish such a program, S. 54, cleared both the House and Senate this session. Now the joint panel of six legislators must reconcile outstanding differences into a single bill that will go back to both chambers for final approval and then be sent to the governor’s desk.
The conference committee was appointed in March, but this week’s session will be their first meeting.
The chief of staff to House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that plans were in the works to have the panel meet to advance the legislation during a special session that’s convening this month and in September.
Johnson has repeatedly pledged that the legislature would get around to moving the cannabis commerce bill this year, but she said in May that she felt lawmakers and the administration were appropriately focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic for the time being.
The Wednesday meeting is welcome news to advocates, who have expressed frustration over the delay until this point.
“It’s encouraging to see that legislators appear to be approaching this bill with the sense of urgency it deserves,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Vermont can’t afford to miss out on the new businesses, jobs, and revenue that will be created if S. 54 becomes law.”
#breaking the #vermont legislature will meet tomorrow, Wednesday morning to discuss S.54 bill to tax and regulate #cannabis #vtpoli via @Elifromthe802 https://t.co/mExo2xBuKm pic.twitter.com/r0OgLAXhLp
— VERMONTIJUANA (@vermontijuana) August 18, 2020
According to a new analysis from law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, the state could take in more than $175 million in cannabis revenue through 2025 if it allows sales starting 2021.
One potential complication down the line concerns Gov. Phil Scott (R), who reluctantly signed the earlier noncommercial legalization bill into law and has voiced concerns about adding legal sales to the mix.
In particular, he is worried about road safety issues. However, top lawmakers and an administration official indicated earlier this year that the governor is “at the table” in discussions about the current legislation and would be open to using cannabis tax revenue to fund an after-school program he’s pushing.
Separately, Senate approved a bill in June that would double the amount of marijuana that can be possessed and grown without the threat of jail time.
Meanwhile, Vermont Democratic Party insiders included planks to decriminalize drug possession and legalize marijuana sales in a draft platform for 2020. The document is still subject to change based on comments from county committees and delegates at the party’s September 12 convention.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.