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Vermont Bill To Legalize Marijuana Sales One Step Away From Governor’s Desk After House Vote

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The Vermont House of Representatives on Thursday approved a finalized version of a bill to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales in the state.

While both the House and Senate had previously passed the bill, S. 54, a bicameral conference committee had to be convened to resolve differences between their respective versions. And following a series of meetings and compromises, negotiators on the panel reached a deal on Tuesday, sending the final proposal back to the floor of both chambers for final consent.

The House approved the compromise legislation in a 92-56 vote. It’s expected to be taken up by the Senate next week, and if it passes there as well, it will head to the the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R).

Vermont legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivation of two plants in 2018, but there are currently no regulations in place that allow for retail sales.

“It’s exciting to see that Vermont is on the cusp of ending cannabis prohibition for adults,” Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Most Vermonters are not interested in growing their own plants, and many are unable to do so because it is prohibited by their rental agreements, so the only sensible policy is to create a regulated market for adult-use cannabis in Vermont. Governor Scott should recognize the merits of this bill and sign it into law after it passes the Senate.”

Under the proposed bill, cannabis would be subject to a 14 percent excise tax, in addition to the state’s six percent sales tax.

S. 54 also contains some social equity provisions such as prioritizing marijuana business licenses for minorities, women and people disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. An independent regulatory commission would additionally be tasked with promoting small business participation in the market.

A new Cannabis Control Commission would be responsible for issuing licenses for retailers, growers, manufacturers, wholesalers and labs. The body would also take over regulation of the state’s existing medical cannabis industry from the Department of Public Safety .

A 30 percent THC limit would be imposed on cannabis flower, while oils could contain up to 60 percent THC. Flavored vape cartridges would be banned.

“Why do we tax and regulate and control particular substances? We have several reasons,” Rep. Tommy Walz (D) said during the House’s debate prior to voting on the legislation. “One, of course, is that we can get revenue out of it. But also because we can provide some harm reduction. It can provide some protections.”

Local jurisdictions would have to proactively opt in to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their area. Municipalities would also be able to establish their own regulations and municipal licensing requirements.

The three House and three Senate members charged with negotiating the final bill had at times contentious meetings where they hashed out issues such as tax rates, local control, advertising, saliva testing of drivers and even an unrelated seat belt enforcement provision the House unsuccessfully pushed to insert.

Rep. Anne Donahue (R) gave an extensive speech where she agreed fundamentally with the purpose of the legislation.

“Why do we want a tax and regulate sales system for marijuana in Vermont? I think we have a list of pretty good reasons,” she said. “We began with the acknowledgement that this is something that people are using and, in fact, are using legally in Vermont. We want to divert it from the black market. The only way to do that is to create a tax and regulate legal market.”

But ultimately she said the lack of a total ban on advertising and marketing left her opposed to the measure. The contention over advertising occupied much of Thursday’s discussion.

A timeline for the legislation states that it would formally take effect on October 1, 2020—but regulators would then have to make a series of determinations about rules and licensing before retail sales would launch. Dispensary licenses would have to be issued on or before October 1, 2022.

A fiscal analysis on the final bill projects that Vermont will generate between $13.3 million and $24.2 million in annual cannabis tax revenue by Fiscal Year 2025. Licensing fees will lead to additional funds for the state, but the regulatory board created by the legislation will set those levels at a later date. For now, the Joint Fiscal Office estimates the fees could lead to another $650,000 in revenue every year. Municipalities hosting marijuana businesses will also be able to levy additional local fees.

The governor hasn’t indicated whether he’s supportive of the newly revised legislation, but a top legislator said earlier this year that he’s been “at the table” in earlier negotiations and has expressed interest in using some tax revenue to fund an after-school program he’s pursuing. That said, Scott only reluctantly signed the legalization of possession and homegrow into law after vetoing an earlier version, and it’s not clear if the road safety provisions in the final commercialization bill will be enough to satisfy concerns he has voiced about impaired driving.

Outside of the cannabis sales legalization bill, the House approved separate legislation this month that would provide for automatic expungements of marijuana convictions and allow people to possess and grow more cannabis without the threat of jail time than is currently allowed. The Senate could give approval to the latest version next week, setting it up to head to Scott’s desk.

This story has been updated to include comments from lawmakers during the vote.

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U.S. House Approves Marijuana Banking Bill For Fourth Time, Setting Up Senate Consideration

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

After receiving an initial voice vote earlier in the afternoon, members passed the legislation by a final recorded vote of 321-101.

The legislation, which was reintroduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and a long bipartisan list of cosponsors last month, was taken up under a process known as suspension of the rules, which does not allow for amendments and requires a 2/3rd supermajority to pass.

“The fact is that people in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of cannabis use, and we need these cannabis businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, payroll accounts, lines of credit, credit cards and more,” Perlmutter said on the House floor. “This will improve transparency and accountability, and help law enforcement root out illegal transactions to prevent tax evasion, money laundering and other white collar crime. But most importantly, this will reduce the risk of violent crime in our communities.”

Because marijuana businesses are largely precluded from accessing traditional financial institutions and have to operate on a mostly cash-only basis, that makes them targets of crime—a point that advocates, regulators and banking representatives have emphasized.

“Even if you are opposed to the legalization of cannabis, you should support this bill,” Perlmutter added. “American voters have spoken and continue to speak—and the fact is, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Prohibition is over.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said “it’s time for us to address this inconsistency, it’s time for us to pass, again, the SAFE Banking Act and it’s time for us to move forward with legalization on the federal level.”

“I appreciate us being at this point—a critical first step along the path to full legalization, which I’m confident will happen this Congress, and not a moment too soon,” the congressman said.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) spoke in opposition to the legislation, stating that “regardless of your position on this bill, I do think the fact remains that cannabis is a prohibited substance under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act—and let me further state, by enacting this legislation, we’re effectively kneecapping law enforcement enforcement and legalizing money laundering.”

But in a sign of the bipartisan nature of this reform, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) took to the floor to defend the legislation. He said “I’m proud to help lead this common sense and overdue effort.”

“At a time when small businesses are just beginning to recover from the economic destruction caused by COVID-19, the federal government should be supporting them, not standing in their way,” he said.

McHenry was the only lawmaker to rise against the bill on the floor, yielding all additional opposition time to other Republican members who actually spoke in support of it.

Watch the floor debate on the marijuana banking bill in the video below:

Just before the debate started on Monday, the governors of 20 states and one U.S. territory—as well as bankers associations representing every state in the country and a coalition of state treasurers—sent letters to House leadership, expressing support for the reform legislation.

The vote marks the fourth time the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. Lawmakers passed it as a standalone bill in 2019 and then twice more as part of coronavirus relief legislation. At no point did the measure move forward in the Senate under Republican control last session, however.

But this time around, advocates and industry stakeholders are feeling confident that the bill’s path will not end in the House. With Democrats now in control of both chambers and the White House, there are high expectations that the proposal will make its way through the Senate and onto the president’s desk.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The legislation would ensure that financial institutions could take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators.

“For the first time since Joe Biden assumed the presidency, a supermajority of the House has voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “However, the SAFE Banking Act is only a first step at making sure that these state-legal markets operate safely and efficiently. The sad reality is that those who own or patronize the unbanked businesses are themselves criminals in the eyes of the federal government, which can only be addressed by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”

Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the bill is “vital for improving public safety and transparency and will improve the lives of the more than 300,000 people who work in the state-legal cannabis industry.”

“It will also help level the playing field for small businesses and communities with limited access to capital,” he said. “It is time for the Senate to start considering the companion legislation without delay.”

At the beginning of Monday’s House session, prior to the formal debate on the bill, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) voiced opposition to the legislation, arguing that it is “about legitimizing and bankrolling the marijuana industry and making legalization inevitable.”

“We’re not even directly debating our drug laws,” he said. “No, we’re cowardly debating if we should reward states that are undermining the rule of law. Despite what the swamp says, we don’t need recreational marijuana.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office first confirmed that the chamber would vote on the SAFE Banking Act on Friday.

Days after the legislation was introduced in the House last month, it was also refiled in the Senate, where Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) are the chief sponsors. That version currently has 32 cosponsors. It remains to be seen when the bill will be scheduled for action in the chamber.

After it passed the House last Congress, advocates and stakeholders closely watched for any action to come out of the Senate Banking Committee, where it was referred after being transmitted to the chamber. But then-Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) did not hold a hearing on the proposal, despite talk of negotiations taking place regarding certain provisions.

Crapo said he opposed the reform proposal, but he signaled that he might be more amenable if it included certain provisions viewed as untenable to the industry, including a two percent THC potency limit on products in order for cannabis businesses to qualify to access financial services as well as blocking banking services for operators that sell high-potency vaping devices or edibles that could appeal to children.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who took the top seat in that panel after Democrats secured a majority in the Senate, told reporters in February that he’s “willing” to move the cannabis banking bill, “but with it needs to come sentencing reform.”

When legislative leaders announced that the SAFE Banking Act was getting a House vote in 2019,  there was pushback from some advocates who felt that Congress should have prioritized comprehensive reform to legalize marijuana and promote social equity, rather than start with a measure viewed as primarily friendly to industry interests.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and an original cosponsor of the bill, said last month that the plan is to pass the banking reform first this session because it “is a public safety crisis now,” and it’s “distinct—as we’ve heard from some of my colleagues—distinct from how they feel about comprehensive reform.”

Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers are simultaneously preparing to introduce legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of crafting a legalization bill, and they’ve already met with advocates to get feedback on how best to approach the policy change.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Nine In Ten Americans Support Legalizing Marijuana For Recreational Or Medical Use, New Pew Poll Finds

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Governors, Banking Associations And State Treasurers Tell Congress To Pass Marijuana Banking Bill

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The governors of 20 states and one U.S. territory—as well as bankers associations representing every state in the country and a coalition of state treasurers—recently sent letters to House leadership, expressing support for a bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses that the chamber is set to vote on within hours.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) led the governors’ letter on Monday, which states that the officials “strongly support the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act” in order to “remove the legal uncertainty and allow banks and credit unions to provide services to state-licensed cannabis-related businesses.”

“Because few banks and credit unions provide these services, state-licensed cannabis businesses predominantly operate on a cash basis,” the governors wrote. “Without banking services, state-licensed cannabis businesses are unable to write checks, make and receive electronic payments, utilize a payroll provider, or accept credit and debit cards.”

“Cash only businesses pose a significant public safety risk to customers and employees. The cash-only environment also burdens state and local government agencies that must collect tax and fee payments in person and in cash, which creates additional public expenses and employee safety risks.”

“State and federal governments have a shared interest in upholding the rule of law, protecting public safety, and transitioning markets out of the shadows and into our transparent and regulated banking system. Many of our states have implemented laws and regulations to reduce these risks while ensuring financial accountability of the cannabis industry. These public safety risks can be further mitigated on the federal level by passing the SAFE Banking Act to provide state-licensed cannabis businesses with access to banking service providers.”

Alongside Polis, the governors of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin signed the letter.

“I’m proud that my fellow Governors and I are urging Congress to make the common sense decision to allow state-licensed cannabis-related businesses to access our financial institutions,” Polis said in a press release. “For more than a decade, Colorado has been a model of the success of these businesses and it’s well past time that we allow them to join our transparent and regulated banking system.”

Separately, bankers associations from all 50 states plus Puerto Rico sent a letter to House leadership on Monday that similarly voices support for passing the SAFE Banking Act, which they characterized as “an important step to address the conflict between federal and state laws and how banks safely work with legal cannabis and cannabis related businesses.”

“Although we do not take a position on the legalization of marijuana, our members are committed to serving the financial needs of their communities—including those that have voted to legalize cannabis,” the letter states. “Despite this ever-growing voter preference, current federal law continues to prevent banks from safely banking these businesses without fear of federal sanctions. As a result, this segment of our local economies is forced to operate on an all-cash basis, which creates serious public safety, revenue administration, and legal compliance concerns in the communities we serve.”

“The SAFE Banking Act is a banking-specific bipartisan solution that would address the reality of the current marketplace and allow banks to serve cannabis-related businesses in states where the activity is legal,” the associations said.

Last week, the National Association of State Treasurers also wrote to congressional leaders, saying that while its members don’t take a position on legalization in general, the group “remains concerned by the ancillary effects posed by legitimate participants in the industry lacking reliable access to the federally regulated banking system.”

“The National Association of State Treasurers continues to support commonsense federal laws and regulations to provide essential banking services to legitimate cannabis businesses, promote public safety and financial transparency, and facilitate tax and fee collection without compromising federal enforcement of anti- money laundering laws against criminal enterprises. To that extent, we fully support the key elements of the SAFE Banking Act that comport with our association’s policy as outlined in this letter and that is contained in our policy resolution.”

Three state attorneys general and the top prosecutor for Washington, D.C. sent a letter to congressional leaders earlier this month, and they also asked Congress to approve the reform.

The SAFE Banking Act, reintroduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and a long list of cosponsors last month, is expected to easily pass in the House after Monday’s debate wraps up.

It passed as a standalone bill in the chamber in 2019 with strong bipartisan support, and its language was also attached to two pieces of coronavirus relief legislation that the House approved. It didn’t advance in the Senate in any form under Republican control, however.

Among advocates and stakeholders, there’s an expectation that this year will be different now that Democrats control both chambers and the White House.

The legislation would ensure that financial institutions could take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators.

Days after the legislation was introduced in the House last month, it was also refiled in the Senate, where Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) are the chief sponsors. That version currently has 32 cosponsors. It remains to be seen when the bill will be scheduled for action in the chamber.

After it passed the House last Congress, advocates and stakeholders closely watched for any action to come out of the Senate Banking Committee, where it was referred after being transmitted to the chamber. But then-Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) did not hold a hearing on the proposal, despite talk of negotiations taking place regarding certain provisions.

Crapo said he opposed the reform proposal, but he signaled that he might be more amenable if it included certain provisions viewed as untenable to the industry, including a two percent THC potency limit on products in order for cannabis businesses to qualify to access financial services as well as blocking banking services for operators that sell high-potency vaping devices or edibles that could appeal to children.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who took the top seat in that panel after Democrats secured a majority in the Senate, told reporters in February that he’s “willing” to move the cannabis banking bill, “but with it needs to come sentencing reform.”

When legislative leaders announced that the SAFE Banking Act was getting a House vote in 2019,  there was pushback from some advocates who felt that Congress should have prioritized comprehensive reform to legalize marijuana and promote social equity, rather than start with a measure viewed as primarily friendly to industry interests.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and an original cosponsor of the bill, said last month that the plan is to pass the banking reform first this session because it “is a public safety crisis now,” and it’s “distinct—as we’ve heard from some of my colleagues—distinct from how they feel about comprehensive reform.”

Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers are simultaneously preparing to introduce legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of crafting a legalization bill, and they’ve already met with advocates to get feedback on how best to approach the policy change.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Read the letter from the governors on the marijuana banking legislation below:

Governors Ask Congress To P… by Marijuana Moment

Read the letter from the National Association of State Treasurers on the cannabis reform bill below: 

Treasurers Ask Congress To … by Marijuana Moment

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Top North Carolina GOP Senator Notes Strong Medical Marijuana Support As Reform Bills Are Filed

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Public opinion is shifting in favor of marijuana reform, a top GOP North Carolina senator acknowledges, and that could open up opportunities for several recently introduced bills to advance this session.

While advocates are doubtful that the conservative state will advance broad adult-use legalization measures being carried by Democrats this year, there is some optimism about the prospects of separate medical cannabis reform legislation that’s sponsored by the Republican chair of the Senate Rules Committee, for example.

To that end, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) recently acknowledged that the tides are shifting when it comes to marijuana in North Carolina, and he said that sponsor, Chairman Bill Rabon, “for a long time has looked at the issue.”

“I do sense that public opinion is changing on marijuana—both medical and recreational,” Rabon said. “I don’t know where the members of the General Assembly are at this time in terms of support for the bill, but it’s something we’ll look at and we’ll see how things move along.”

A majority of North Carolina adults support legalizing marijuana for recreational use—and three in four say it should be legal for medical purposes—according to a poll released in February.

Rabon’s bipartisan medical cannabis legalization bill could be the vehicle to advance that more modest reform. While it has not seen legislative action since being filed earlier this month, the legislation was referred to his committee and advocates see potential to advance.

Patients would qualify for medical marijuana under the proposal if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or any other ailment for which a physician recommends the treatment option. The legislation would prohibit smokable cannabis products, however.

But the bill is not the only proposal seeking to reform the state’s marijuana laws that could see action this session.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Among others, a separate medical cannabis bill, adult-use marijuana legalization measures and several pieces of cannabis decriminalization legislation have been introduced in recent weeks—though they do not currently have bipartisan cosponsorships and would likely face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled legislature.

Pressure to end criminalization are building regionally, however. Neighboring Virginia became the first state in the south to legalize marijuana for recreational use this month, for example, and a bill to expand South Carolina’s limited existing medical cannabis program cleared a key committee vote last month.

“Now that Virginia has legalized cannabis for both medical and nonmedical use, it is becoming increasingly difficult for North Carolina residents to understand why their state’s cannabis policies remain stuck in the 20th Century,” Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s encouraging to see that some state lawmakers are working to move the state forward on this important issue.”

A task force convened by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) backed decriminalization as part of a series of policy recommendations on racial equity that were released late last year. The group also said prior cannabis convictions should be expunged and the state should consider whether to more broadly legalize marijuana.

Under current law, possessing more than half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 such charges and 1,909 convictions, with 70 percent of those convicted being nonwhite.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Seventh House Committee

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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