Statehouse Headliners: Senate pot bill would allow advertising, legalize unregulated small transactions

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S.54 would tax marijuana at 16-18 percent, less than the 26 percent the state of Vermont says is needed to support education, prevention and public safety responses to Vermonters’ increased access to marijuana.

By Guy Page

The Vermont Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on S.54, ‘tax and regulate’ cultivation and retail sale of marijuana. The lengthy bill consumes 50 pages, beginning on page 278, of today’s Senate Calendar.

S.54 would:

  • Tax marijuana at 16-18 percent, less than the 26 percent the state of Vermont says is needed to support education, prevention and public safety responses to Vermonters’ increased access to marijuana.
  • Not allow municipalities to prohibit marijuana operations unless given permission to do so by a majority of voters.
  • Allow pot stores to blanket the airwaves, internet and newspapers with advertising, with some conditions.
  • Legalize unregulated, untaxed adult-to-adult transactions of small amounts of marijuana and hashish.

Taxation: S.54 would impose a 16 percent excise tax on retail sales. Sales of marijuana for resale would be exempt. Also, municipalities could enact a two percent “local option” tax on retail sales. There would be no other sales tax.

S.54’s 16-18 percent total tax rate is lower than the estimated 20 percent in H.196, the House tax and regulate bill. Supporters of low taxation say it will help legal pot compete with the black market. To this suggestion a Republican senator responded today, “the Sinaloa drug cartel will beat you on price every time.” The Vermont Tax Department says a 26 percent tax rate is needed to operate education, prevention, and public safety programs necessary to at least try to protect youth and other at-risk populations from increased access to a habit-forming, psychosis-inducing, high-THC marijuana.

Local Option: S.54 says (pg. 288): “A municipality, by majority vote of those present and voting at an annual or special meeting warned for that purpose, may prohibit the operation of a cannabis establishment or a specific type of cannabis establishment within the municipality.” This “opt-out” choice sets a higher bar of municipal exclusion than an “opt in” method, which would not allow marijuana industry facilities unless approved by voters.

Some Vermont communities have already banned marijuana sales and cultivation, in anticipation of full-scale legalization. The City of Newport passed an ordinance last June banning the sale of marijuana. WCAX reported on June 21, 2018:

“Opening up a marijuana facility for commercialized sale in the city is absolutely 180 degrees opposite of the direction the recovery community wants to go in,” [Chief Seth] DiSanto said.

DiSanto says the new [personal possession] law taking effect July 1 puts public safety at risk. And while Newport’s new ordinance will not affect people’s ability to possess or use small amounts of marijuana in their own homes, he says it will keep the city safer if there ever is a market for legal weed.

“If every other town in the Northeast Kingdom says they want to be involved in that, that’s fine. What the city of Newport is saying is, we’re not interested in the blood money,” DiSanto said.

Headliners spoke with Chief DiSanto about marijuana legalization at the Statehouse a month ago. He is particularly concerned about the predicted increase in highway fatalities. Anyone who thinks smoking marijuana is a victimless crime is welcome to come along the next time has to give the bad news to the family of a victim of DUI-death resulting, he said.

Other Vermont municipalities are considering a similar pre-emptive ban on marijuana facilities, including Clarendon, according to Clarendon resident and legalization opponent Art Peterson.

Advertising (pg. 289) – “Cannabis establishments shall not advertise their products via flyers, television, radio, billboards, print, or Internet unless the licensee can show that no more than 30 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be under 21 years of age.” The bill gives no direction about meeting this reasonable expectation. So as long as a TV, radio, print or internet ad does not directly appeal to people 21 and under, anything goes.

For decades the tobacco industry ran youth-oriented ads while claiming their intended market was young adults 21 and over. Nothing in S.54 would prohibit this kind of “we are but we aren’t” targeted marketing of Vermonters under 21, long acknowledged as the key demographic for the success of a high-volume marijuana sales operation.

Legal unregulated sale of small amounts of marijuana, hashish (pg. 315) – “A person 21 years of age or older may dispense one ounce or less of cannabis or five grams or less of hashish to another person who is 21 years of age or older provided that the dispensing is not advertised or promoted to the public.”

In short – any private person 21 and older may “dispense” (gift, sell, whatever) marijuana or hashish to someone 21 or older, in an unregulated and untaxed transaction.

‘Medical’ marijuana fears competition, seeks deregulation – Meanwhile, legal Medical Marijuana dispensaries fearing competition from pot stores are seeking deregulation. S.117, introduced by Sen. Richard Sears Feb. 21 and referred to his Judiciary Committee, would eliminate the medical conditions required for a medical marijuana prescription and also the requirement for a three-month relationship between doctor and patient.

This proposed law drew a strong reaction from retired pharmacist, prosecutor and anti-legalization activist Bob Orleck of Orange County: “Which goes to show that the whole Medical Marijuana scheme was a fraud in the first place designed to enable legal sales of pot even before society was ready to toss in the towel that would allow such a dangerous social experiment as recreational marijuana. A better solution would be to just shut them down, period!

“The charade is over so why keep playing the game like this is something medical? Marijuana is not medicine. It’s an addicting and psychosis causing drug, especially high potency THC pot products. Isn’t it about time we all start acting like responsible adults?”

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR and U.S. National Guard

13 thoughts on “Statehouse Headliners: Senate pot bill would allow advertising, legalize unregulated small transactions

  1. This whole decriminalization to legalization process has been a farce. So you decriminalized it, fine. The people who smoke MJ got what they wanted. Now we have to legalize so people will know what they are smoking is not contaminated. Really? I never heard anyone who smoked dope worry about where it came from. Now the money…. all we’ve heard was that we want to protect the children and the public but an additional 8% tax to do this will make the black market come in.

    I have seen what I thought were some very intelligent people make some really foolish decisions in the legislature. It makes one wonder if the black market hasn’t already made it’s way into the statehouse.

  2. I encourage all of our representatives and senators and Gov. Scott to read Alex Berenson’s book:
    “Tell Your Children” about the dangers of marijuana—from addiction to illness, to death, etc. Berenson is a New York Times author who WAS pro-marijuana, but because his wife is a criminal forensic psychiatrist, who knows the truth about MJ, he spent time researching the subject since he had fallen for all the pro-MJ
    rationales that MJ doesn’t hurt anyone, etc., etc. The result of his research is that he has reversed his
    assumptions and he is sounding the alarm—warning of the dangers, as many others are also trying to do—-IF our lawmakers will just listen.

    Last week, in Twinsburg, Ohio, a 17 year old male came to the high school with MARIJUANA and a gun.
    The school’s security/safety officer just thought the “kid did not look right”, intervened with him, and
    prevented a potential tragedy. This is only one example.

    Also in Ohio, in February, an elementary kid brought MJ laced gummies to his school, and over a
    dozen kids got sick from eating them. The kid’s mother was arrested for endangering children.
    Is this the way that we are enhancing the health and safety of children and families?

    One can expect to be seeing the same thing in Vermont, unless more of our lawmakers develop
    some backbone and start saying “no, not here”—this goes for every town (& officials) also.

    On tonight’s TV news I see the lawmakers are trying to raise the smoking age to 21—a good move,
    but why can’t they see that legalizing and commercializing marijuana is even more dangerous and
    harmful to our children, youth,adults, and society in general, than cigarettes.

    Let’s hope that our towns and cities will take action to prevent the commercialism and MJ businesses
    in our neighborhoods. The MJ industry is being promoted as “good for Vermont’s economy”, without
    seeing further into the future with negative consequences that will need to be dealt with.

  3. I’ve lived through the legalization/commercialization of marijuana. I came to Vermont to warn the legislators and the Governor that marijuana destroys communities and families January 2017. I read a quote to Gov Scott from a mom who lives next to Marijuana cartels. They were not there prior to legalization! I’ve made videos, I’ve written letters and made phone calls. So many of If is did.

    It’s a shame that the sentate picks drug promotion over Vermont’s children and public health and safety. These policies are not going well and they are not going to end well. I predict that someday they will be repealed because marijuana can lead to mental illness, addiction, suicides, and homicides. I recommend lawsuits and counter policies. For example, make the marijuana industry pay for manditory drug testing for all of Vermont’s children. They want to try to regulate drug dealers ( which is impossible) then they need to regulate the health of Vermont’s children.

    May God protect Vermont’s children from this predatory marijuana industry because Vernon’s Senators won’t

  4. I especially have to agree with Bob Orleck and Mr. C. Henry. The Legislature is making the State Drug Dealers just to try and recoup some of the Monies that Gov. Shumlin threw away. Not only will there be a rash of Vehicle accidents due to impaired drivers, but we all KNOW no matter what the advocates say that MJ is a Gateway Drug. Our Pony tailed “Entitled” Lt. Gov. is hard behind pushing the Legalization of Pot! Shame on Him, and all the other Legislators who vote for it! Crime will take an upswing, as well as firearm accidents and illegal gun dealing! DRUGS ARE DRUGS..

  5. Pueblo County, Colorado has a record number of cannabis dispensaries – both medical and retail, 49 for a county that has a population of 160,000. Based on the legislative and industry claims of “massive tax revenue”, our county should be rolling in excess tax funds. Instead, our schools are failing. We need to repair one school but can not afford to. The district 60 schools in Pueblo have a 38% chronic absenteeism rate. Our teachers had to strike for a nominal pay raise (they had to go on strike in Denver as well). Pueblo has struggled to be able to provide a shelter for the homeless (this year, based on the most recent homeless count, we have a record number of homeless people in our county). One of two hospitals had to drastically reduce services (after 132 years in existence) due to financial issues.

    Let’s be really clear on this topic – our city is not better, our youth are using more cannabis sooner and they are using larger amounts (what do you think they are putting in the jule pens?). The amount of false claims being made in papers, on the radio, etc about the curative powers of cannabis products is simply shameful and deceitful. Kids and parents are being led to believe that cannabis is harmless – its not. There has been a marked increase in kids with cannabis abuse disorder and psychosis. There has been a marked increase in the numbers of people who present with “scromitting” (cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome) to the ED. Our emergency department is seeing at least one a day. Calculate basic costs: ED visits (facility fee, doctor fee, CT fee) is about 6500 dollars being billed (the hospital doesn’t collect anywhere close to this). For a year, at one hospital, with one cannabis induced illness, calculating one patient per day, the costs exceed 2 MILLION dollars. Now, consider the statewide cost with 25 hospitals. Most of these patients are on medicaid here. So, you, the public are footing the bill for this, not the cannabis industry. This one simple calculation does not include all the other cannabis related illnesses.
    Take it from a doc in Colorado – cannabis commercialization has not improved our economics, our schools, our hospitals, etc. and we haven’t even talked about the number of illegal grows and the costs of cleaning the environment and law enforcement (our jails are full).

    • Thank you for writing this. Please send this to all the newspapers out there and hopefully they will print this. We all know what you are experiencing is the true and very is too small a state, too far in debt, and way to much opioid addiction to even begin to take this on! The people of Vermont should demand that it is put to a vote for the people of the state at town meetings. It is time the adults run this state!

  6. I totally agree that the state of Vermont doesn’t need this bill, and we didn’t need to legalize weed either.
    I sat behind two republican senators from Rutland County yesterday and heard them vote nay. Thank you two gentlemen for trying to stop this madness.
    My question is: If one of my kids or grandchildren is killed by a driver under the influence of marijuana, who do I sue – the legislature or the driver? How are we going to tell if they are in fact high on marijuana?
    This bill is not going to stop the black market sale of illegal marijuana. Drug dealers come here and sell their stuff because they can get more money for it here than in the city. Wake up people.
    If we would untie the hands of law enforcement and allow them to enforce our laws, there wouldn’t be a drug problem.
    If we would stop allowing the legislature to spend our tax dollars like it was their own mad money, we wouldn’t need the revenue. If they need more money, the just raise our taxes. If we ran our business the way that they run the state government, we would be be bankrupt.

  7. Bob is the only sane person speaking up on this. This whole marijuana deal is such a corrupt inside deal.

    Communities can’t say no, unless by a majority of Voters? Just like the solar panels, all inside deals going to their buddies.

    If a Walmart wants to come in we’ll fight it for decades. Gas Pumps at Costco, same thing, then we’ll make them redo the whole intersection before they can open, how’s that for pro business? Want a dollar store in your town, we’ll fight you on that one too. Want to a retreat that gets kids on the right track by wilderness experience with high paying jobs and a wonderful success rate? Nope, we’ll give you a permit (town) but the state will deny you because it ….get this…doesn’t conform with the town plan. Want to have some bar stools at your $500 a night hotel and restaurant? No way…take to court, all the way to the Supreme Court and lose. No bar stools but we have a bar and you can get any drinks you like.

    And now, with epidemic drug and alcohol problems across our state, we say you have to have a majority vote in the town to stop it. But we’ll be able to stop any regular business, one person with a stamp and a complaint.

    The Democratic party has lost it’s soul, what happened to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country?”

    Lord help us…please.

    • You’ll loose at the VT Very Liberal Supreme Court for sure. I’ve had a case before them. What a show they are. Costs $295 for 5 mins of presentation and if they ask questions, that’s on your time lessening your legal presentation.

      They walk in all in a row, then after hearing both sides get up ans strut out like ducks in a shooting gallery. Black roved lawyers with an liberal agenda. Fake all. They have mostly made up their minds before the hearing. You’d have a better chance at the “local” County Superior Court. If there were some Conservative judges (lawyers) you stand a better chance.

    • Thanks Neil for the compliment about speaking up but I am not the only one.

      In fact our Commissioner of Public Safety, Tom Anderson, has been great in pointing out the truth that if this becomes law, more people will die than if it is defeated.

      Mark Levine, Commissioner of Health is opposed to it and has clearly voiced that. Dealing with the reality that the lawmakers might pass such a law, he tried to get the best result by testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee that if in fact such a bill is approved it should have funding of $8,000,000 for “prevention” but the Committee Chair, Dick Sears (D) made it clear that no money for prevention would be included in this bill. The Commissioner said it would be irresponsible to pass such legislation without that element included.

      Other law enforcement leaders have spoken out strongly.

      Educators have as well.

      Medical organizations and doctors know the dangers that will be unleased on young undeveloped brains and the psychosis and violence that the drug, especially the high potency THC products will bring and have spoken out about that very loudly and clearly.

      Many citizens voice their opposition but even many who say they are for legalization of marijuana, have been misled to believe this is the same drug as their grandparents used at Woodstock or they might have used in the 60’s. High potency THC does kill. There are many different ways to die including the loss of the desire to lead a normal life by choosing the stoner life and living for their next bowl of cannabis.

      The ones not listening are the lawmakers. It is hard to understand how they can ignore their sworn obligation to do no injury and to also ignore that their own children and grandchildren will be subject to the same victimization as the rest of us. What are they thinking?

      • As per usual the public certainly is not hearing all the arguments on the floor and by those who offer a different opinion. Those on committees are not interested in the truth. they are interested in fulfilling their agenda. I find it amazing how people so willingly take commands and follow a party doctrine. Keep up the great work.

  8. S.54 Vermont State House revenue salvation plan, instead of lowering the cost of living
    and start attracting new business to raise Vermont Families !!

    The state rather become drug dealers and thinks this revenue will solve the states problems,
    things like handling State Debt, Infrastructure Repairs, Lower Taxes……….There shouldn’t be
    any ramifications from S.54……………………. Idiots !!

    Once it’s legal, the black market will thrive…………….

    • I know huh? It’s like hey, we’re gonna have a thriving state with this new plan.

      Better hire more counselors at DCF, more jobs!……so we’re gonna have an entire population on weed, because there’s no down side. Yeah, let’s break up the families, make drugs cool, promote more welfare, get the state to pay your rent regardless of what you make, trap them in a rental trap for life, tell them it’s the corporations and rich people’s fault you’re only making minimum wage. Sound familiar?

      While you pass the joint to your unemployed friend. We’ll have a country ghetto in no time, doesn’t matter the color, nationality or history of who follows this plan, ruins them with amazingly reliable results, every time.

      Vermont can be it’s own South Side, clearly all these imported organizers are following the Alinsky road map to their socialist nirvana.

      Is this Vermont? Seriously? The public has no issue with any of this?

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