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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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Politics

Kentucky GOP Congressman Touts ‘High Hemp IQ’ Of His Constituents

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Rep. James Comer (R-KY) says that he proved his political advisors wrong when he decided to champion hemp legalization.

When he served as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner before joining Congress and first contemplated “making hemp a reality,” he was told that people would conflate the crop with marijuana and he’d face a backlash, Comer said during an interview that aired this week.

“They said the people of Kentucky will never know the difference. They’ll think you’re talking about marijuana and you’re done,” he said during the Kentucky Educational Television appearance. “You can’t be a Republican and do this.”

“But people in Kentucky are smarter than some people give us credit for, and the people in Kentucky knew the history of hemp,” he said, noting that his own grandparents cultivated the crop.

“We have a high hemp IQ in Kentucky, and people across America are now learning the difference between hemp and marijuana.”

One of the areas that Comer said he hopes to see expanded is the use of hemp fibers to create products such as furniture and car parts. He mentioned one example of a Kentucky company that’s creating hardwood flooring out of hemp, and House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) is going to tour that facility with him soon.

Shortly before becoming the panel’s chair, Peterson said he was considering growing hemp on his own farm.

Most of the existing hemp facilities in Kentucky are producing CBD oil, which Comer said he also takes to treat minor pain.

While hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, businesses are still awaiting guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And that regulatory uncertainty has led some financial institutions to deny credit lines to hemp companies.

To that end, Comer said he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are working closely to resolve the problem. That includes pushing for the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal financial regulators.

“We teamed up with the marijuana people in the states,” Comer said.

Watch Comer’s hemp comments, starting around 5:30 into the video below:

“They’ve legalized marijuana. They’re selling marijuana. They’re not allowed to deposit the cash. They’re not allowed to take credit card transactions at those marijuana stores,” he said. “We have worked with them to try to create a system where you can have financial transparency, and that bill is making its way through Congress now.”

The SAFE Banking Act was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in March. And on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee took advocates by surprise after it announced that it would hold a hearing on marijuana banking issues next week, with just days left before the August recess.

Separately, the Senate Agriculture Committee will meet to discuss hemp production two days later.

McConnell has been an especially vocal advocate for hemp and CBD. For example, he led the head of USDA on a tour of a Kentucky hemp facility that produces CBD oil earlier this month.

Comer also claimed in the new interview that large pharmaceutical companies feel threatened by hemp-derived CBD as more consumers gravitate toward it as a “natural supplement” that could be a substitute for prescription painkillers.

“Now what you are having up here in Washington as we speak, the big drug companies are like, ‘Wow, people are buying this CBD oil and not buying our drug,'” the congressman said. “So they’re demanding that the FDA regulate it.”

He and McConnell are working to “keep the FDA off the backs of people,” Comer said.

While former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stressed that creating a regulatory pathway that allows for the lawful marketing of CBD as a food item or dietary supplement would take years without congressional action, the agency recently said that it is speeding up the rulemaking process and will issue a progress report by early fall.

USDA similarly recognized the intense interest from lawmakers and stakeholders in developing regulations for the crop, and it plans to issue an interim final rule for the crop in August.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of KET.

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Psychedelics Decriminalization Moves Forward In Cities Around The U.S.

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Activists in Berkeley, California and Port Townsend, Washington took steps this week to get psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics decriminalized, following in the footsteps of successful similar efforts in Denver and Oakland.

In Berkeley, a decriminalization resolution advanced in a City Council committee on Wednesday, and organizers in Port Townsend spoke about their proposal at a county public health board meeting on Thursday, with plans to formally present it to the City and County Council.

The Berkeley measure would prohibit city departments and law enforcement from using any funds to enforce laws against possession, propagation and consumption of psychedelics by individuals 21 or older. Members of the City Council Public Safety committee unanimously voted to send the resolution to the body’s Public Health Committee for further consideration.

If that panel approves the measure, the full Council will schedule a hearing and vote on final passage. Decriminalize Nature, the group behind this resolution as well as the successful passage of neighboring Oakland’s psychedelics decriminalization effort last month, said they hope the Council will act on the measure by early November.

Separately, activists in Port Townsend announced that they delivered a speech about their psychedelics decriminalization proposal during a meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health.

Beyond prohibiting the use of government funds to criminalize adults for using and possessing the substances, the local Washington resolution also calls on the city administrator to “instruct the City’s state and federal lobbyists to work in support of decriminalizing all Entheogenic Plants and plant-based compounds that are listed on the Federal Controlled Substances Schedule 1.”

“We are overwhelmed by the support of our community. Our group of supporters filled up half the audience,” the Port Townsend Psychedelic Society said in an Instagram post. “We are currently making plans to speak with the county health officer to talk about next steps in presenting in front of city and county council.”

Alex Williams, who is leading the decriminalization effort in Berkeley, told Marijuana Moment that Wednesday’s Council committee meeting there “went better than I had anticipated” and that he feels “there is an excellent chance of the resolution passing.”

Watch the Berkeley Public Safety Committee discuss psychedelics, starting at about 42:00:

While Williams said two members of the committee seemed to be under the impression that the resolution is singularly geared toward recreational use and meant to “capitalize on a new market,” Decriminalize Nature plans to address those misconceptions, emphasizing that the measure would not provide for commercial manufacturing or sales and that “this process is very important to allowing safe, equitable access to marginalized communities.”

“It is essential that entheogenic substances be treats as sacred spiritual practices and healers,” he added.

The resolution defines entheogenic substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Two Councilmembers, Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila, are sponsoring the measure.

“You can imagine a day where, years from now, doctors working with patients with serious depression or veterans dealing with PTSD could actually offer them a more realistic and comprehensive suite of potential treatments, which may include some of these plants as the research over the last several decades has indicated,” Robinson said at the meeting.

While Berkeley might seem like an obvious target for psychedelics reform given the city’s decades-long close association with counterculture, the movement to remove criminal penalties is gaining steam nationally. Decriminalize Nature is maintaining a map of jurisdictions throughout the country where activists have expressed interest in pursuing a similar model.

Also this week, a resident spoke at a Columbia, Missouri City Council meeting, asking the body to consider a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics. At least one councilmember expressed interest in following through, and he called the therapeutic potential of the natural substances “very promising.”

Individuals from nearly 100 cities have reached out to the organization for assistance advancing their own decriminalization efforts.

Voters in Denver kicked things off by approving the nation’s first-ever ballot measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in May.

Activists are currently pursuing efforts to place psilocybin-focused measures on statewide ballots in California and Oregon for next year.

More Than 100 Marijuana Businesses Urge Congress To Include Social Equity In Legalization

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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Top Democratic Party Leader Flops With Attempted Joke About Trump Smoking Hemp

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The chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) apparently thinks that hemp gets you high—and that getting high makes you dumb.

In an attempted dig at President Donald Trump, who said last week that farmers struggling amid a trade war were “over the hump,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said he thought the president “was smoking some hemp when he said they were over the hump.”

“If you smoke some hemp, I guess that would stimulate certain farm economies here,” he added during his remarks at a press conference in Wisconsin.

Watch Perez’s hemp comment at about 6:45 into the video below:

Because hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, it wouldn’t get you high, as Perez implied. But legalization advocates say it’s especially problematic that a party leader is treating marijuana as a laughing matter in the first place.

“I would need to be smoking something a hell of a lot stronger than hemp to find Tom Perez’s weak attempt at a marijuana joke funny,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.

“At a time when over 600,000 overwhelmingly black and brown Americans are still being arrested every year for simple possession, our failed and racist prohibition is no laughing matter,” he said. “While we have made great progress in winning elected officials nationwide to our cause, Perez illustrated that we have a lot of work left to do when it comes educating them about the issue and still a bit of a road to go down before we can stop dealing with dad jokes and bad weed puns.”

Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, echoed that point.

“We need more leadership and action at the federal level, not more stupid jokes, puns and inaccurate comments about hemp’s ability to get you high,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Luckily that is something that many of his party’s presidential candidates understand,” he said. “Sadly, Mr. Perez does not.”

Perez’s position on cannabis policy isn’t quite clear, as he’s remained largely silent on the issue. In contrast, many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning on broad marijuana reform proposals.

The DNC chair made his attempted hemp quip during a press availability in Milwaukee, where he is meeting donors and coordinating preparation for next year’s Democratic National Convention.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

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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