Statehouse Headliners: Gov Ops marijuana bill limits local control, allows high THC levels in gummies and cookies

By Guy Page

The House Government Operations Committee Thursday night amended and approved S.54, taxed and regulated legal marijuana. The new version increases six-fold the permitted amount of THC in marijuana products, and does not allow towns to prohibit marijuana cultivation and production.

S.54 may be up for discussion by the full House as soon as Tuesday, or go to other committees for review. The following is a Headliners analysis of the bill as it appears on page 1615 of this House calendar.

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

No roadside saliva test for impaired drivers. Taking the advise of the House Judiciary Committee and the ACLU, Gov Ops specifically prohibits roadside saliva testing of suspected impaired drivers. Instead, a saliva test could only be administered at a police barracks and with a judge’s court order. Gov. Phil Scott has said he would veto a tax and regulate bill that does not include an effective roadside saliva test — which experts say does not exist.

The bill says testimony by a trained Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) police officer will be accepted as evidence in court. However, no Vermonter has ever been convicted in jury trial on DRE evidence, and a superior challenge of a future conviction is considered likely. The State of Vermont currently has trained 54 DRE officers. Ongoing training, plus time spent away from other duties, is expected to significantly raise law enforcement costs. If federal grant funding for DRE training is reduced, as some legislators say could happen, Vermont will be “on the hook” for these expenses.

Energy, environmental and water quality issues bypassed. The bill bypasses direct regulation of environmental impacts associated with marijuana cultivation and production by directing the Cannabis Control Board to prepare “recommendations” on energy, environment and water quality for the Legislature’s consideration. In a somewhat atypical move for our environmentally-conscious, hands-on Legislature, these issues would only be addressed after the bill is passed.

Psychosis-inducing levels of THC allowed in products appealing to children. The committee also asks the Control Board to determine whether a cannabinoid should be added to marijuana products “to aid in the prevention of cannabis-induced psychosis that occurs in some users of cannabis and cannabis products.” The committee acknowledges the risk of marijuana-induced psychosis yet offers the clinically dubious solution of a cannabis additive. The required warning label on each product does not mention psychosis.

The Gov Ops bill elevates the 10 percent maximum concentration permitted in the Senate bill to 30 percent for marijuana “flower” and 60 percent for concentrated marijuana products, which typically include gummies and cookies – the very products that are most attractive to unsuspecting young children. Researchers agree that the greater the level of THC, the greater the risk of psychosis among heavy users, especially the young.

Local control weakened. The bill requires an “opt-in” decision by town voters for retail marijuana operations. But there are no local control protections – opt-in or opt-out – for marijuana cultivators or producers. Also not included in the opt-in language are “integrated” license holders – medical marijuana dispensaries empowered by their license to sell to customers without a medical marijuana card, in effect becoming retail pot shops.

The retail shops will be the last ‘tax and regulate’ operations to open, so there’s plenty of time for the next Legislature to eliminate the local control option for them, too, should it choose to do so. Also, if a community changes its mind and votes to “opt out” of retail marijuana, existing retail operations would remain open.

Expands Cannabis Control Board from three to five members, establishes separate advisory board. The Gov Ops bill adds two members to the three proposed by the Senate. Each of the five members of the “independent” commission would be paid about $80,000/year, with the chair earning about $110,000. Gov Ops also proposes an executive director, an administrative assistant, a consultant, and “such staff as shall be required.” It also proposes a separate, apparently unpaid advisory board.

Taxation set far below level recommended by Governor’s tax experts. The Gov Ops bill would levy a 16 percent state sales excise tax, and a two percent local option tax. Thirty percent of the excise tax, not to exceed $6 million per year, would be dedicated to funding substance abuse prevention programs. But will this raise enough tax revenue? Prevention experts and Gov. Scott’s tax officials say funding prevention and other state costs associated with legalization would require overall taxation of about 26 percent. It is unclear how the House plans to fund effective prevention, law enforcement, and the new regulatory apparatus through licensing fees and a 16 percent excise tax. In fact, finding a solution for this problem – in addition to environmental issues – is left to the Cannabis Control Board.

One possible explanation for the relatively low tax rate is that the Gov Ops bill seeks to ‘legalize’ small, currently illegal marijuana cultivators and producers. “It is the intent of the General Assembly,” the proposed bill says, “to move as much of the illegal cannabis market as possible into the regulated market…” and “to encourage participation in the regulated cannabis market by small, local farmers.”

Gov Ops Chair Sarah Copeland-Hanzas explicitly told the Democratic caucus Tuesday, April 30 that her intent was to bring existing, “illicit” growers into the legal market. These growers of course pay no excise tax or fees now.

Deficit spending permitted. One observer at last night’s committee meeting said a possible $2.6 million shortfall was mentioned during discussions. Gov Ops clearly expects tax and regulate set-up expenses may run in the red: “to the extent that the Cannabis Regulation Fund has a negative balance at the close of the fiscal year 2022, proceeds in that amount from the tax….in fiscal year 2023 shall be deposited into the Cannabis Regulation Fund.” (House Calendar Pg. 1625.) The bill does not advise how to address expenses in the following year, or what the State should do if the fund is chronically underfunded.

S.54 was reportedly reviewed by House Ways and Means (taxation) committee today. It is likely to be placed on the House calendar for Tuesday, May 7. At that point it will either be referred to another committee, or be scheduled for a full vote by the House.

Vermonters who wish to express their opinions on S.54 may contact their House representatives by calling the Sergeant-of-Arms office at 828-2228 during business hours, or by emailing their legislators.  Gov. Scott may be contacted by email and also by phone at 828-3333.

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.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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17 thoughts on “Statehouse Headliners: Gov Ops marijuana bill limits local control, allows high THC levels in gummies and cookies

  1. When marijuana was legalized, there were dire predictions of unintended consequences. Well, the chickens have come home to roost. Is everybody in Montpelier happy now???????

  2. Let’s put the overall plan for DNC lemmings, aka NWO pimps in perspective. (not Democrats)

    New World Order Pimps….
    They want forestry and agriculture to now be under Act 250 2.0, basically food and any shelter.

    The Pimps conveniently want:
    A brand new business to the tune of at least $250 million, won’t be subject to Act 250 or any of it’s criteria, they aren’t even allowing towns to make their own determination on the business for God’s sake!

    Now I know many can use and no issues. However, it causes lung cancer, it messes with genetics of male sperm, causes lower IQ in children that consume and is passed onto children through breast milk. It can reduce motivation in many individuals. The new stuff apparently is very strong and can surprise people. The state has never been able to keep it out of schools or prisons, the two places it’s not supposed to be.

    Nope completely free pass. See the fix is in. Cronyism rules in the Green Mountains, it’s a very close cousin to socialism……

  3. Just wait to a friend or loved one of your is killed to a stoned driving dbag. Then see how great it is to legalize this narcotic. As if we don’t have enough of a drug problem already. Great going morons in Montpelier.

  4. While I would rather the state leave the levels of whatever compound unrestricted I believe that communities should be able to govern themselves, how they see fit.

  5. Aren’t you fools that voted these idiots in happy and proud? I think that all these socialist/democrats in our legislature are high all the time. There has to be some reason for their irrational thinking.

  6. We knew this bill S.54 was going to pass, as our astute legislators could see the ” Pot ” of gold
    with the perceived revenue !!

    With no control on THC levels and concerns from medical & law enforcement, the masterminds
    in the golden dome turned a blind eye……

    Ok you’re an adult you smoke a little, and you can grow your own …. pretty cool. But who do you
    think is going to buy ” Gummy Bears & Cookies ” …………..The Kids will be compliant ??

    Let’s see if Gov. Scott will veto a tax and regulate bill that does not include an effective roadside saliva test ??

    Don’t waste your time contacting your legislators, they don’t care and you’ll get No response,
    your only a constitute.

    Vermont’s S.54 get you kids stoned or H.57 kill them before they’re born !!

    • There are plenty of adults that will buy gummy bears and THC is not the worst ingredients in that product. Sugar is by far more harmful than THC on the mental and physical health of the individual.

        • Sugar is one of the leading causes of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

          The sugar industry carried out similar studies and campaigns that put tobacco companies in hot water, publishing research that paints sugar in a beneficial light.

          During an animal study scientist James J DiNicolantonio observed that “it (sugar) is actually more addictive than even cocaine, so sugar is pretty much probably the most consumed addictive substance around the world and it is wreaking havoc on our health.”

          A lot of concern about cannabis leadings to addictive personalities yet the addictive properties of sugar is staring us in our faces and yet denial. This is likely due to the demonization of cannabis by its textile competitors in the early 1900s and continued by the government and well intended social groups up to the present day.

          But the scientific data has given us contradictory information. On the one hand researchers suggest that cannabis use actually drives increased risk for abusing, and becoming dependent on, other substances; while on the other hand a report in the Clinical Psychology Review claims that using cannabis may help people struggling with alcohol or opioid addictions.

          Again, the research on the effects of cannabis on psychosis has presented contradictory results. How can it alleviate symptoms of social anxiety while at the same time increase the individual’s risk of social anxiety?

          • The Love of money is the root of all evil. Sugar is truly dangerous and our government has hidden and continues to hid this fact from us. Might we someday be saying the same thing about the legalization of recreational marijuana? I have always been in favor of cannibas for medical reasons, but I am wondering if I might be misinformed. To get info from the other side I am going to be ordering the book “Tell Your Children” the truth about marijuana, mental illness and violence, by Alex Berenson

          • That is a good book, it does tend to be one sided but the debate between Alex Berenson and Dr. Michael Hart brings light to both their biases and finds more of a neutral ground than one side or the other could provide separately.

        • So because, I presented scientific data for why sugar is worse than cannabis and point out the contradictory evidence surrounding two types f the major concerns the public has with cannabis I automatically must be a user?

          It cannot be that I am interested in backing up my political beliefs with scientific information?

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