Vermont lawmakers took another step toward finalizing a deal on a bill to legalize marijuana sales, with a bicameral conference committee meeting again on Monday to discuss differing versions of the proposal that were approved by the House and Senate.
This round, the panel spent much of their time talking about estimated tax revenue figures and the programs that will receive those dollars. Members also went over ongoing disputes on provisions concerning licensing fees, retail restrictions and regulatory jurisdiction over the existing medical cannabis market.
While advocates and lawmakers had aimed to reach an agreement by this third meeting of the committee, that didn’t pan out. While the Senate delivered their concessions on the House’s policy requests last week, the latter chamber has not yet produced their counteroffer despite aiming to have it ready for the latest discussion. Rep. John Gannon (D), who chairs the House Committee on Government Operations, said that since so many panels of the chamber had worked on the bill it is taking more time than expected to pool input. House conferees now plan to submit their response ahead of the next meeting, which is being scheduled for Friday.
Watch the conference meet to discuss the cannabis tax-and-regulate bill below:
For Monday’s meeting, the Joint Fiscal Office (JRO) provided projections about how much tax revenue they expect will be allocated to various programs and departments under the Senate’s latest proposal.
The office estimates that the state general fund will get between $1.9-$3.5 million in fiscal year 2023, $4.1-$7.6 million in 2024 and $5.3-9.9 million in 2025. Separate education and substance misuse and prevention funds are projected to receive additional support from legal cannabis sales.
There was some discussion on the House side about outstanding concerns on the need for restrictions on flavored cannabis oils, THC content and advertising. In earlier meetings, there’s also been debate about which regulatory body should be responsible for overseeing the state’s existing medical cannabis program as well as reporting requirements for regulators charged with overseeing the industry. An unrelated seatbelt enforcement provision inserted by the House became a major area of contention.
The Senate made a series of concessions in their proposal last week. It remains to be seen how flexible the House will be when they respond by the end of this week.
“The Senate has provided an alternative proposal and we’re kind of going around in circles here until the House has had the opportunity to provide us with a counterproposal,” Sen. Dick Sears (D), the chief sponsor of the bill, S. 54, and the chair of the body’s Judiciary Committee, said during the meeting.
When the topic of setting a follow-up meeting came up near the end of Monday’s discussion, it was clear that both sides are eager to finalize the legislation sooner rather than later. Because they’ve been scheduling meetings on Mondays and next week is Labor Day, they opted to set a short discussion on Friday afternoon rather than wait until September 14.
While Vermont legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivation of two plants in 2018, there are currently no regulations in place that allow for retail sales.
Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana is working to get constituents to contact House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) to raise concerns about cannabis as the legislature finalizes the sales bill—and they recently made the controversial decision to include her personal cell phone number in a mailer sent out to residents in her district.
Separately, the 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.