Key Cannabis Bills Await Vermont Governor's Signature


At long last, Vermont is on the verge of legalizing adult-use cannabis sales.

On Tuesday, the Vermont Senate voted 23-6 in favor of legislation (S. 54) that would legalize, regulate and tax commercial cannabis sales.

The Senate vote came just days after the Vermont House of Representatives voted 92-56 in favor of the bill, which establishes a 14% tax on cannabis products (in addition to a 6% state sales tax), creates a licensing system and requires the formation of a Cannabis Control Board that will tasked with regulating the sector.

Last week, House and Senate members reached an agreement on final version of S. 54.

A companion bill that would reduce cannabis penalties and require the expungement of records for previous cannabis violations (S. 234) also passed on Tuesday.

Both bills are now on their way to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk and awaiting signatures. If enacted, S. 234 would take effect on January 1, 2021.

The timeline for S. 54 is much longer, however. While the law would take effect on October 1, 2020, dispensary licensing could take up to two years.

Importantly, candidates for the Cannabis Control Board would be nominated, appointed and confirmed before January 8, 2021. Their term would begin on January 19, and a strategic plan for the rollout of cannabis sales would begin coming together over the next three months.

A final adoption of rules for cannabis establishments and dispensaries would need to occur before March 1, 2022, and applications for cultivators and integrated licensees would begin on or before April 1, 2022.

Vermont would then begin issuing licenses to small cultivators and testing labs, before approving larger cultivators, manufacturers and wholesalers. Retailer licenses would be issued on or before October 1, 2022, and those outlets could initiate sales that month.

In a statement, Laura Subin, the director of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana said “if Gov. Scott signs S. 54 and S. 234, Vermont will take the next critical steps towards truly fair and sensible cannabis policy.”

“Tens of thousands of individuals — disproportionately Black and Brown people — will no longer bear the burden of criminal convictions for possessing small amounts of cannabis,” she said. “Patients and adult consumers will be able to purchase cannabis that has been independently lab tested.”

Under current Vermont law, adults (21+) are allowed to possess up to 1 oz. of marijuana without facing a civil penalty or being forced to pay a fine. Medical marijuana sales are also legal in Vermont, and adults (21+) are allowed to cultivate up to six plants for their own personal use.

While possession and use of recreational cannabis have been legal since 2018, the legislature has dragged its feet on establishing a regulated system for legal sales.

Prior to the vote on S. 54, Sen. Richard Sears, a sponsor of the bill, said it had been a “long, winding road to get to this point.”

For his part, Sen. Christopher Pearson noted that the bill was “headed to the governor under the context of many, many years of work,” and said he was “barely lukewarm” to the idea of legalizing cannabis sales.

If Scott does sign S. 54, or allow it to become law without a signature, Vermont would become the second state in the U.S. to approve the sale of adult-use cannabis through its legislature. Recreational cannabis sales are currently permitted in 10 states. Vermont and Washington D.C. are the only two U.S. jurisdictions where cannabis is legal but adult-use sales are not permitted and unregulated.

Speaking to other Senators before the vote, Pearson said lawmakers spent countless hours hammering out the framework for Vermont's cannabis licensing system — one that favors small growers as well as women and minority-owned business applicants — adding that it was the “best in the country.”

“The provisions in here make it very clear that any corporate family only is permitted to hold one licenses, not run the show as it were,” Pearson said.

According to the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office, the Green Mountain State could generate as much as $24.2 million in revenue via the 14% excise tax and 6% sales tax placed on cannabis products by 2025. Additional cannabis licensing fees could net the state upwards of $650,000 annually.

According to The Associated Press, Gov. Scott said he would "take a look" and "reflect on all of the areas of disagreement" before making a decision on whether to sign the bills. 

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