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MARIJUANA MOMENT

Bill to legalize marijuana sales heads to Vermont House floor following key committee vote

Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

Another Vermont House committee approved a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana Monday, with a vote by the full chamber expected in the coming days.

The Appropriations Committee advanced the legislation with a tally of 6-5, clearing its path for floor action — likely on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Vermont Legislature legalized possession and home cultivation of cannabis for adult use in 2018, but there is currently no way for consumers to legally purchase marijuana. The bill moving through the Legislature would establish a commercial cannabis market in the state, create various categories of business licenses, establish a government agency to oversee the new industry, and set tax rates on legal sales.

It would also set limits on product potency, capping THC in cannabis flower at 30 percent THC and limiting concentrates to 60 percent THC.

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Before voting to send the bill to the floor, the Appropriations Committee amended the legislation to reduce the number of members of the proposed Cannabis Control Board from five to three, slightly increase its funding, and set it to be dissolved by July 1, 2024. Lawmakers also approved changes to allocate 30 percent of marijuana excise tax revenues to substance misuse prevention efforts, with additional funds going toward after-school and summer learning programs. Regulators would also set fees to charge for mandatory reviews of advertisements by cannabis businesses under the amendment.

Two other House panels — the Government Operations and Ways and Means Committees — have already approved the legislation this year. The full Senate voted in favor of the bill last year during the first half of the two-year legislative session.

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“After years of consideration, the House finally appears poised to agree with the Senate that cannabis sales should be regulated in Vermont,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Cannabis is already legal in Vermont, so it makes no sense that consumers should have to either grow it themselves or buy it from stores in Massachusetts.”

During the Ways and Means hearing earlier this month, lawmakers adopted amendments that changed the bill’s planned tax rate, increasing it from a proposed 16 percent sales tax to a 20 percent combined rate that consists of 14 percent excise tax and 6 percent sales tax.

Medical cannabis patients would be exempt from state taxes under the bill, and local governments would be prohibited from adding their own new local taxes on marijuana.

Since the Senate passed an earlier version of the bill prior to House committees making amendments, the chambers would have to resolve differences before the final measure is sent to the governor’s desk — most likely through a bicameral conference committee.

Governor Phil Scott, who reluctantly signed the noncommercial legalization bill into law in 2018, has previously voiced opposition to allowing retail marijuana sales, but top lawmakers have said that he’s come around on the issue and has been involved in discussions about this legislation. An official in his administration indicated last month that the governor is interested in using some tax revenue from cannabis sales to fund an after-school program he’s backing.

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Residents in the state are strongly in favor of the reform move, according to a poll released last week. About three-in-four Vermonters support allowing adults to purchase marijuana “from regulated, taxpaying small businesses.”

In neighboring New Hampshire, the House approved a bill last week that would enact a policy similar to what Vermont currently has, allowing adults to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use without a retail element.

Read the story on Marijuana Moment.