By Guy Page
On Tuesday House Government Operations Chair Sarah Copeland Hanzas gave the House Democratic caucus details of her committee’s planned “roll-out” of S.54, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization bill. Renamed the Cannabis Consumer Protection Bill, S.54 as currently conceived by Gov Ops would:
- Favor small, “Vermont scale” marijuana cultivators, “at least in the first round.” Micro-retailers also will be encouraged. Current medical marijuana dispensaries could sell retail marijuana until new dispensaries become open for business.
- Require municipalities to permit marijuana cultivation, production and sales operations unless a majority of voters choose to “opt-out.” This is contrary to the wishes of marijuana legalization opponents and advocates of municipal decision-making who prefer the bill to make marijuana operations locally impermissible unless a majority of town voters choose to “opt-in.”
Chair Copeland-Hanzas explained the committee believes “opt-out” status would encourage “illicit” marijuana growers now operating in the community to eventually come forward and apply for licenses. She told the members that there are now illicit grows “in every one of your districts, and mine.” Opt-out status will encourage them to come forward and apply for licenses, she said.
“I’m very concerned about the opt-out structure,” Rep. Cynthia Browning (Arlington) said. “You are putting people breaking the law, breaking zoning laws, above the interests of law-abiding citizens.”
“It’ a chicken and the egg situation,” Chair Copeland-Hanzas responded.
- Permit sale of edibles, including gummies, in 10 mg servings. The marijuana consumer market wants edibles and Vermont dispensaries need to meet that demand, she said.
- Fund state programs aimed at youth substance abuse prevention with marijuana revenue. Rep. Skip Troiano (Stannard), a longtime supporter of medical marijuana operations, asked how legal marijuana operations would be taxed. Chair Copeland-Hanzas answered, “I’m advising we don’t do a lot” of specifics on taxation, “knowing that the experts will take over” – meaning the House Ways & Means (taxation) Committee.
- Address impaired driver concerns with sufficient Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) and – possibly – roadside blood draws. Gov. Phil Scott has said he wants a saliva test to be included in the bill. Chair Copeland-Hanzas did not mention that option.
- Allow marijuana retail sales to begin Sept. 1, 2021.
Government Operations is scheduled to review and vote on S54 Thursday and Friday.
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.