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Vermont Will Advance Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill Within Weeks, House Speaker’s Office Says

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A bill to legalize marijuana sales in Vermont is set to advance during a special session this month or next, a top lawmaker’s office confirmed to Marijuana Moment on Wednesday.

While Vermont legalized cannabis possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants in 2018, there is currently no regulatory system in place that allows for retail sales. A bill to establish that program, S. 54, cleared both the House and Senate in differing forms, but now it must move through a bicameral conference committee charged with reconciling the versions into a single proposal to send to the governor.

The panel was appointed in March but has not met yet. Advocates have grown frustrated over the delay, questioning when the committee will be authorized to convene.

“S.54 is currently in a committee of conference and we expect that committee to meet during the August/September legislative session,” the chief of staff to House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) told Marijuana Moment in an email.

That’s consistent with what the leader said during a June telephone town hall, where she said they were “aiming to get in passed in August.”

Asked about minutes from a recent Vermont Department of Health Substance Misuse Prevention Oversight and Advisory Council meeting—in which participants said the tax-and-regulate legislation “is not currently slated to be discussed in this special session”—the staffer said “I do not see anyone who speaks for the legislature listed as attending the meeting, nor do I see that opinion credited to a person.”

“I’m really not sure why that was said or where that information came from,” she said.

Marijuana Moment reached out to the Health Department for clarification, but a representative was not immediately available.

Johnson has repeatedly said that the legislature will get around to moving the cannabis commerce bill this year, but she said in May that she felt lawmakers and the administration are appropriately focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

In terms of the economic impact of the health crisis, it stands to reason that taxing and regulating marijuana could represent one method of generating needed revenue. According to a new analysis from Vicente Sederberg LLP, the state could take in more than $175 million in cannabis revenue through 2025 if it allows sales starting 2021.

Dave Silberman, a pro bono drug policy reform advocate and candidate for the elected office of high bailiff in Addison County, told Marijuana Moment that beyond that revenue, “an adult-use cannabis market will provide an economic lifeline to thousands of Vermonters by creating new, well-paying jobs that support our rural economy.”

“Continued foot-dragging on this bill, which has passed both chambers by overwhelming margins and which could be quickly reconciled by legislators acting in good faith, makes no sense,” he said. “Creating a well-regulated cannabis economy should be a centerpiece of our statewide COVID recovery plans, instead of the afterthought that House leadership has so far made it out to be.”

Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release about the new economic analysis that “Vermonters overwhelmingly supported the effort to regulate cannabis sales prior to COVID-19, and the sense of urgency has only increased in light of the economic downturn.”

“It’s time for advocates to stand together and support legislators as they determine the best path forward for the state,” he said.

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 with 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.

As the tax-and-regulate bill awaits conference committee action, 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.

This story has been updated after part of the narrative was incorrectly attributed to the speaker’s staffer. 

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Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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