Vermont House Passes Bill to Legalize Commercial Cannabis Sales

vermont

Vermont is poised to become the 11th U.S. state with a fully-legal commercial cannabis market. 

Earlier today, the Vermont House of Representatives gave its final approval to S. 54, a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax adult-use cannabis sales for individuals 21 years and older.

The final go-ahead comes one day after one day after the House voted 90-54 in favor of the bill, and three days after the House Appropriations Committee narrowly advanced the bill by a vote of 6-5. 

A version of S. 54 passed the Senate by a vote of 23-5 last March. 

The House rendition of the bill that was approved Thursday will now head back to the Senate where it will either be approved as written, or be reviewed by a bicameral committee and reconciled with the Senate version.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which works to reform cannabis laws across the country, the Senate is expected to call for a conference committee to hash out the differences with the House before a final version is approved and delivered to Governor Phil Scott’s desk.

“The conference committee process will provide a great opportunity for Gov. Scott and legislative leaders to come together on a plan that will move the state forward,” MPP New England political director Matt Simon said via a press release.

It's worth noting, however, that Gov. Scott has the power to veto the bill, allow it to become law without his signature, or sign it into law.

“Policymakers should all understand that cannabis is already legal in Vermont, so it makes no sense that people should be expected to grow their own or buy from retail stores in Massachusetts," Simon said via the release.

Indeed, current Vermont law allows adults (21+) 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.

“Vermont needs this bill in order to protect consumers, create jobs, and provide economic opportunities for small businesses,” Simon added via the release.

Under the proposed legislation, a cannabis control board would be established and licenses for cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and laboratories would be established. Integrated licenses would also be created.

The two versions of S. 54 vary on some key issues, including taxation. The House version establishes a 20% tax (14% excise and 6% sales tax), while the Senate version creates a 16% excise tax on retail sales and gives local municipalities the option to impose a 2% local option tax.

A summary of the bill’s key provisions is available on the MPP website.

According to a recent Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, 76% of Vermont residents believe that adults (21+) should be allowed to purchase recreational cannabis for “regulated, tax paying small businesses.”

The poll, which was conducted earlier this month, surveyed 890 residents from across the state.

A press release with additional information is included below.

Vermont House Advances Bill to Regulate and Tax Cannabis Sales

S. 54 returns to the Senate, which is expected to request a conference committee to work out differences with the House before sending the bill to Gov. Phil Scott

MONTPELIER, VT — On Thursday, the Vermont House of Representatives completed its work on a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis sales for adults 21 and older. S. 54, which initially passed the House in a 90-54 vote yesterday, was approved in a voice vote on third reading. The bill now returns to the Senate, which has already passed it in a 23-5 vote. The Senate is expected to request a conference committee to work out differences with the House before sending a final version of the bill to Governor Phil Scott’s desk.

This is the first time the Vermont House has passed a bill to legalize cannabis sales. A summary of the bill is available here.

Vermont legalized possession and cultivation of cannabis for adults 21 and over in 2018, marking the first time any state legislature legalized cannabis for adults’ use through the legislative process rather than through a voter initiative. However, Vermont remains one of only two U.S. jurisdictions where cannabis is legal but not regulated for adult use. If enacted, Vermont would join the 10 states that have laws regulating and taxing cannabis for adult use. 

An overwhelming 76% of Vermont residents support allowing adults 21 and over to purchase cannabis from regulated, tax-paying small businesses according to a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project. The complete results are available here.

The Marijuana Policy Project has been advocating for cannabis policy reforms in Vermont for more than 15 years. The state legislature passed a limited medical cannabis law in 2004, decriminalized possession in 2013, and has gradually improved its cannabis policies in the years since.

Statement from Matt Simon, New England political director at the Marijuana Policy Project:

“Vermonters have made it clear that they support the effort to regulate cannabis markets in their state, and the House has listened. The conference committee process will provide a great opportunity for Gov. Scott and legislative leaders to come together on a plan that will move the state forward. Policymakers should all understand that cannabis is already legal in Vermont, so it makes no sense that people should be expected to grow their own or buy from retail stores in Massachusetts. Vermont needs this bill in order to protect consumers, create jobs, and provide economic opportunities for small businesses.”

Statement from Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project:

“We're encouraged that Vermont's legislature has heeded the will of three-quarters of voters and recognized that regulation, not prohibition, is the most sensible approach to cannabis. Keeping the cannabis market illicit is a half-measure that leaves workers, consumers, and communities at risk. Those who sell cannabis illegally are at risk of violence, arrest, and prosecution, and buyers are at risk of violence and untested, unsafe products. Only through a legal, regulated market can the state control where, when, and to whom cannabis is sold.”

The Marijuana Policy Project is the nation's largest marijuana policy organization. It has been a leading advocate for federal marijuana policy reforms since its founding in 1995, and it has played a leading role in most major state-level reforms that have occurred over the past two decades. For more information, visit https://www.mpp.org.