On March 4, 2020

House passes recreational cannabis bill

By John Flowers/Addison County Independent

The Vermont House on Feb. 26 voted 90-54 in favor of a bill that would tax and regulate recreational cannabis for those 21 and older. The chamber, as expected, then gave final approval to the measure on Thursday, Feb. 27.

The move comes a year after the Senate passed tax-and-regulate legislation.

Bill S.54 now needs a final nod from the Senate and then tweaks from House and Senate conferees before heading to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk. Scott has said he’s open to a measure to tax and regulate cannabis, but has insisted it contain a saliva screening provision to flag drivers under the influence of the substance.

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. If the bill is enacted, Vermont would join 10 states that already have laws regulating and taxing cannabis for adult use.

The bill, according to a report in VTDigger, would subject marijuana sales to a 20% combined tax rate, including a 14% excise tax and a 6% sales tax.

The Senate had proposed a lower tax rate including a 16% excise tax and 2% local options tax.

The state’s Joint Fiscal Office has projected legal marijuana sales in Vermont will bring in about $13 million after four years, according to the VTDigger report.

A three-member cannabis control board would regulate the market and determine which businesses receive licenses to sell or cultivate the substance, according to VTDigger. Retail dispensaries could start selling cannabis products in 2022; towns would need to approve such dispensaries.

Dave Silberman, a Middlebury-based attorney and pro-bono drug policy reform advocate, hailed last week’s House vote.

“This is a historic moment — Vermont’s House of Representatives has at last joined the Senate in acknowledging that the ‘War on Drugs’ approach to cannabis has failed,” Silberman said through an emailed statement to the Independent. “Regulating the commercial production and sale of cannabis is better for consumers, better for public safety and better for our rural economy — and 75% of Vermonters agree, according to the most recent public opinion poll. I’m looking forward to working with representatives and senators to iron out the differences between the versions passed by each chamber, so that the Legislature can send the strongest possible bill to the governor’s desk as soon as possible.”

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