Vermont House passes bill to regulate and tax cannabis sales

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont House on Wednesday voted in favor (90-54) of a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis sales for adults 21 and older. This is the first time the Vermont House has passed a bill to legalize cannabis sales.

S. 54 will now be scheduled for a final House vote, which is expected Thursday. If it passes there, it will return to the Senate, which has already approved a different version of the bill in a 23-5 vote. The House and Senate will have to agree on a final version of the bill before it can proceed to Gov. Phil Scott's desk.

Current Vermont law that went into effect in 2018 allows for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, but it does not include a mechanism to tax and sell marijuana.

Rep. John Gannon, a Democrat from Wilmington, called Vermont's existing law "awkward" because it legalized recreational pot but did not create "safe and legal access to it." He told lawmakers that the question before them was whether cannabis, which was already legalized in Vermont, should be regulated.

"The goal of this bill is the elimination or near elimination of the black market, delivery of product of a certified purity and known potency while minimizing the growth of heavy or hazardous use and use by children," Gannon said.

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A House amendment has proposed a 14 percent excise tax on retail sales of marijuana products and a 6 percent sales and use tax for a total rate of 20 percent. The bill establishes a license for current medical dispensaries to start selling marijuana in February of 2022. Other retailers would need to apply for licenses and could start selling it in July of 2022. Cultivators, wholesalers and product manufacturers would need to apply for other licenses available.

The program for licensed cannabis establishments would be administered by an independent Cannabis Control Board within the executive branch, which would be responsible for establishing rules, compliance and enforcement.

The use of cannabis in public places would be prohibited unless specifically authorized by law.

Republican Gov. Scott has said he was concerned about highway safety, and said he wanted to see an effective way to test for impairment.

The bill includes use of a saliva test to test drivers suspected of being impaired by a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug. Scott spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley did not immediately return an email on Wednesday seeking comment about the current legislation.

The Vermont Growers Association, which describes itself as Vermont's cannabis professional working to create the best legal cannabis industry in the state, opposes the legislation, saying it "prioritizes out-of-state cannabis corporations over Vermont's family farms and small businesses," according to its website.


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