House, Senate agree on legal sale, taxation of cannabis

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MONTPELIER — A conference committee representing the Vermont House of Representatives and state Senate have reached a compromise on a bill that would allow for the legal sale of marijuana, as well as taxation on those sales.

The three House members of the committee agreed to drop language in the house version of S.54 that would have prevented advertising for cannabis-related businesses. Instead the executive director of the Cannabis Control Board, which would be established by the bill, would consult with the Attorney General and the Department of Health to determine advertising standards for both medical and recreational cannabis products.

"The proposal shall reflect the General Assembly's priorities of not promoting cannabis use, limiting exposure of cannabis advertising to persons under 21 years of age, and ensuring consumer protection and public safety," the compromise language says.

On taxes, the Senate agreed to a House proposal collecting fees from cannabis licensees and distributing proceeds to towns hosting such entities. In so doing the Senate members dropped their insistence upon returning 2 percent of a 14 percent tax on cannabis going back to host towns.

Once a committee report is signed, which is expected as early as today, the compromise would head to both chambers for an up-or-down vote. It would then head to Gov. Phil Scott's desk, where it might meet more opposition, as Scott has insisted that some form of roadside test accompany a legal marijuana market in Vermont.

Since 2018, marijuana has been decriminalized for personal possession and use in Vermont, with limits of up to one ounce or two mature plants. But there remains no way to legally purchase or sell marijuana for recreational use in the state, which also has a separate medical marijuana program.

One of the key stumbling blocks has been the insistence of Scott and some lawmakers upon a roadside saliva test as part of road safety enforcement. The House version of S.54 provided for a saliva test — but upon condition of police obtaining a warrant.

On Sept. 4, the state Senate conferees offered a compromise on saliva testing: They dropped their opposition to it in return for the House removing a provision that would make seat belt use a primary reason for a motor vehicle stop. It was one of several significant stumbling blocks cleared away in that session.

The conference committee includes Sens. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, Jeannette White, D-Windham, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, as well as House Reps. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, Janet Ancel, D-Calais, and Robert LaClair, R-Barre Town.

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