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Vermont Senate Passes Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill

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Efforts to create a taxed and regulated marijuana market in Vermont advanced Thursday after the state Senate approved a bill to allow legal cannabis sales.

The legislation was approved by a roll call vote of 23 to 5—a veto-proof margin. After an additional procedural vote in the Senate, likely on Friday, the proposal will head to the House of Representatives.

If enacted into law, S. 54 would establish the Cannabis Control Board as the state’s regulatory body for a legal marijuana market. Five types of licenses for various cannabis businesses would be available, and cannabis sales would be taxed with an excise tax of 16 percent, plus a two percent local option tax.

The bill also includes measures to encourage women and communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition and the war on drugs to join the newly legal market.

“Today’s strong, tri-partisan vote sends a clear message that Vermonters of all political stripes are ready to regulate commercial cultivation and sale of already-legal cannabis,” Dave Silberman, a pro-bono drug reform advocate said in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “By combining a strong regulatory apparatus with our existing homegrow law, S.54 would take power and profits away from illicit dealers and put them in the hands of consumers and law-abiding entrepreneurs.”

The proposal entered the legislative session with strong support in the Senate, with 15 senators—fully half the chamber—signed on as cosponsors.

During a floor debate before the vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears (D) contextualized the growing embrace of marijuana reform around the region. Maine and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, while Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island are considering doing so. Canada implemented marijuana legalization across all provinces and territories this past fall.

“This is no longer where we would be the only ones in the northeast, but one of many,” he said.

Since the bill’s introduction, committees have made amendments to the proposal, including adjusting the rate at which marijuana would taxed and the number of people comprising the regulatory board. The Senate Committee on Judiciary opted to remove language that would have allowed existing medical cannabis dispensaries exclusive rights to sell marijuana products for a year after the new law took effect.

Sen. Ann Cummings (D), who chairs the Finance Committee, talked about looking at other states’ plans to tax and regulate marijuana sales for guidance. “Their structures are diverse as anything you’ve seen. There’s nothing that says this is the best way to tax and regulate,” she said. “This is a brave new world and we’re trying to feel our way forward.”

“The idea was to keep taxes low to encourage migration from the illegal market,” she said of the proposed 16 percent tax for retail sales. “There is no meals tax on edibles and no taxes are applied until the consumer buys the product.”

Sen. Joe Benning (R) said that he traveled to Alaska and Colorado to study their legal marijuana sales systems and found that “neither state has fallen off the planet.”

While out of the Senate’s hands, the bill’s enactment into law is not yet secured. It must still pass through the larger House of Representatives, which has failed in the past to approve tax and regulate bills, though it did vote last year to approve the state’s current noncommercial legalization law that allows low-level possession and home cultivation.

While Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe (D) has fast-tracked efforts to create a legal market, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) has said she isn’t convinced the state is ready to tax and regulate marijuana sales. “You know, I’m honestly really torn on it,” she told Vermont Public Radio last month.

And Gov. Phil Scott (R), who approved the state’s current legal-possession law, has said he would consider signing commercial legalization only if funds were made available for education and prevention measures and roadside tests to detect impaired driving.

A supermajority of House Democrats and Progressives could join the Senate in overriding a potential veto with support of 100 of 150 seats, but cannabis reform support does not split evenly along party lines.

If approved, the bill would go into effect on July 1 of this year, when the board would be formed. Licenses will be given to retailers on or before April 1, 2021.

“Cannabis is legal for adults in Vermont, and it’s time for it to be treated like other products that are legal for adults,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “That means regulating its production and sale to address public health and safety concerns and keep it out of the hands of minors. While some adults would prefer to grow their own cannabis, many would prefer to access it safely and legally from licensed stores. They should have the choice, and that is what this bill will provide.”

Other marijuana-related legislation remains active in Vermont.

A similar bill, H. 196, which sits in the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, has been backed by more than a third of the chamber’s members. Another bill, S. 117, would scrap the specified list of conditions for which doctors can recommend medical cannabis as well as a requirement that patients must have an existing relationship with their doctor before they can get such recommendations.

The Vermont Senate vote is the latest in a string of legislative wins for marijuana reformers around the country this week.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis 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.

We followed more than 900 pieces of cannabis legislation in 2018. Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In New Hampshire, a bill that would allow adults 21 and older to consume, gift, possess, cultivate, and purchase marijuana from approved retailers was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

In Hawaii, a bill that would reduce criminal penalties for certain marijuana-based offenses, making them punishable by monetary fines and not jail time, was unanimously approved by a key House committee on Wednesday, while a broader legalization bill cleared a separate committee earlier this month.

And in New Mexico, lawmakers in several committees have voted to advance two separate pieces of marijuana legalization legislation.

Vermont Senate Expected To Vote On Legal Marijuana Sales Bill This Week

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Santa Cruz City Council Approves Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure

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The Santa Cruz, California City Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution on Tuesday that would effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics by making them among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

The measure—which was originally sponsored by then-Vice Mayor Justin Cummings (D), who’s since become mayor—says the city shouldn’t expend “resources in the investigation and arrest of persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older solely for the personal use and personal possession of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi” such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine.

It further stipulates that possession and use of psychedelics by adults “should be considered among the lowest law enforcement priorities for the City of Santa Cruz.”

This is the latest in a series of local policy victories for the psychedelics reform movement, which kicked off with a successful ballot measure vote in Denver to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last May. Oakland’s City Council then unanimously approved a measure to make a broad range of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

Now activists across the country are hoping to replicate that resolution, with organizers in roughly 100 cities aiming to decriminalize certain psychedelic substances through ballot initiatives and legislative action at the local level.

In November, Santa Cruz’s City Council heard testimony from the group behind the resolution, Decriminalize Santa Cruz. It was then referred to the Public Safety Committee and was amended prior to returning to the full body for a final vote.

Councilmembers revised the original measure in order to “to recognize the need for harm reduction and education for youth and families about drug prevention.” A provision was also inserted to clarify that “the sale, use and cultivation of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi to and by minors should be considered an exception that should require appropriate investigation by the Santa Cruz City Police Department.”

The word “cultivation” was also removed from provisions specifying the measure’s scope. But before the full Council vote on Tuesday, several advocates used the public comment portion of the meeting to urge that it be added back in, and members adopted that request before approving the final resolution.

“With possession and use being inserted without cultivation, that actually encourages the black market because there’s nowhere else to go,” Cummings, the mayor, said. “If people are are cultivating at themselves they know exactly what they’re producing.”

Activists celebrated their city becoming the third in the U.S. in less than a year to decriminalize certain psychedelic substances.

“These eight months we’ve been working on the resolution, I’ve met so many people whose lives were saved by entheogenic plants and fungi,” Julian Hodge, a founder of Decriminalize Santa Cruz and a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “The Santa Cruz City Council took a great step to help those people today. I am incredibly proud to be part of this movement, and can’t wait to see the change we continue to make in the future.”

Another provision of the measure instructs the city’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”

Beyond Decriminalize Santa Cruz, a newly formed group called Project New Day also advocated for the reform move. The organization, which is focused on promoting research into psychedelics for the treatment of addiction and other mental health conditions, sent a press release on Tuesday highlighting comments from a military veteran who overcame addiction with the help of medically supervised psychedelics treatment.

“Psychedelic-assisted therapy saved my life,” Dylan Jouras said. “It’s important that people know there is an effective way to get better from addiction and deep mental health issues.”

While the local Santa Cruz resolution wouldn’t allow legal sales of psychedelics, another group of advocates is currently collecting signatures toward placing a broad statewide psilocybin legalization initiative before California voters on the November ballot.

In Oregon, organizers are hoping to put a proposal before voters that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. Separately, a campaign in that state is pushing a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs with a focus on funding substance misuse treatment.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang said at an Iowa campaign stop last week that he wants to legalize psilocybin for military veterans.

Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A New Mexico Senate committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use.

With a little more than three weeks left in the state’s short 2020 legislative session, lawmakers are making clear their intent to advance the legalization proposal in a timely fashion.

The bill, which is supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee in a 4-3 vote.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria (D) led the introduction of the bill before the committee, testifying that he believes “2020 is the year New Mexico becomes the third state to enact legalization of cannabis through legislative action,” following Vermont and Illinois.

“We know that New Mexicans across the state, from rural to urban centers, are with us on this issue.”

“Bringing an underground market aboveground takes a lot of deliberation, statewide input from community members and stakeholders, ingenuity and learning from other states’ experiences,” the senator, who is himself a medical cannabis patient, said. “The criminalization of cannabis disproportionately harms and criminalizes young people and people of color, sponsors violence and corruption by those who currently exclusively trade in cannabis in the black market. The current situation, our status quo that relies on a black market outside of the medical program, does nothing to curb youth access to cannabis.”

The governor included legalization in her formal 2020 legislative agenda and discussed the importance of establishing a well-regulated and equitable cannabis market in her State of the State address this month.

The day after Lujan Grisham’s agenda was released, lawmakers filed the legalization bill, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. The legislation also contains social justice provisions such as automatic expungements for prior cannabis possession convictions.

The proposal would not allow home cultivation; however, it does decriminalize the cultivation of up to three plants and six seedlings, making the offense punishable by a $50 fine without the treat of jail time.

Additionally, the bill would eliminate the gross receipts tax for medical cannabis sales, mandate that recreational dispensaries service registered patients and create a subsidy program for low-income patients to access marijuana.

Recreational cannabis sales would be taxed at nine percent, with revenue going toward that subsidy program in addition to a “cannabis industry equitable opportunity investment fund” to support entrepreneurs from communities most impacted by the drug war, a “community grants reinvestment fund” and a workplace training program, among other programs.

According to a fiscal analysis, the state stands to bring in nearly $6.2 million in recreational cannabis revenue in Fiscal Year 2021. By FY20204, that amounts would rise to nearly $34 million. Municipalities and counties would rake in additional revenues.

“Legalizing and regulating will bring one of the nation’s largest cash crops under the rule of law, generating an estimated between 11,000 and 13,000 jobs for New Mexicans in every corner of the state,” Candelaria said.

The legislation must still pass in two other panels—Judiciary and Finance—before it gets a full vote on the Senate floor.

This latest development at the committee-level is the product of months of work from legislators and the governor’s administration. Last summer, Lujan Grisham formed a working group tasked with reaching out to community members and stakeholders, studying various components of cannabis regulation and submitting recommendations ahead of the current session.

The final report, which was released in October, laid out a number of proposed rules and restrictions for a legal marijuana market.

Earlier last year, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize marijuana but it later died in the Senate. Lawmakers did send Lujan Grisham a more limited bill to simply decriminalize cannabis possession, which she signed.

While it’s possible that the current committee-passed legislation will be amended as it makes its way to a full Senate vote, or that companion legislation could be changed in the House, recent polling shows that New Mexico residents are widely in favor of the general policy change. Three-out-of-four residents who participated in a state-funded survey that was released last month said they back legalization.

If all goes according to the governor’s plan, a final legalization bill will be delivered to her desk by the end of the session—and upon her signature, New Mexico would likely become the 12th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

That said, lawmakers in states across the U.S. are eyeing cannabis reform this year, and a marijuana legalization bill advanced in a New Hampshire House committee earlier on Tuesday.

New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A New Hampshire House committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.

While the legislation doesn’t provide for retail sales, it would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. The model would be similar to neighboring Vermont’s non-commercial cannabis system.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee advanced the bill in a 13-7 vote.

“I think that the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire,” Chairman Renny Cushing (D) said prior to the vote. “This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”

Watch New Hampshire lawmakers discuss the marijuana legalization bill below:

This vote comes a week after the panel held a hearing on the proposal, with advocates and stakeholders testifying in favor of the reform move.

“Like most Granite Staters, this committee understands that it’s time for New Hampshire to stop prohibiting cannabis,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Adults in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state should not be punished for their choice to use a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”

“Now that New Hampshire is literally surrounded by jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for adults, our current policies can no longer be justified in any way,” he said. “It’s time for the House, Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu to work together and move cannabis policies into the 21st century.”

A floor vote by the full House of Representatives is expected on February 6.

Tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation has advanced in the legislature in prior sessions, but it never arrived on the governor’s desk.

Even if it did make it that far, however, it’s unclear if Sununu, a Republican, would sign it. He’s voiced opposition to commercial legalization, and he vetoed a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate their own marijuana, raising questions about whether he’d be willing to support this latest measure extending that right to all adults over 21.

In any case, the New Hampshire development comes amid a flurry of legislative activity around cannabis in the Northeast.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget last week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut are also confident  that marijuana reform will advance this year. In Vermont, advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will add a legal sales component to the state’s current noncommercial cannabis law.

Vermont Governor ‘At The Table’ On Marijuana Legalization Talks, Top Lawmaker Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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