By Guy Page
S.54, tax and regulation of marijuana, was not discussed on the House floor today despite appearing on Friday’s “notice calendar.” However it is scheduled for 1 p.m. review by the House Ways and Means (taxation) committee. It also may be reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee this week.
As approved by Government Operations Committee last week, S.54 contains several items needing review by the powerful “money” committees that control taxation and spending:
Increasing the size of the Cannabis Control Board from three to five members (average pay $80,000, with chair receiving $110,000).
Spending 30 percent of the 16 percent excise tax receipts on substance abuse prevention programs, up to $6 million.
Requiring every Vermont law enforcement officer to take a 16-hour drug recognition training program known as “Advanced Roadside Training”.
Ways and Means today will feature testimony from David Silberman, a pro-legalization attorney, as well as VT Commissioner of Taxes Craig Bolio and Joseph Bishop-Henchman of the Tax Foundation, a national think-tank on policy issues. A 2016 Tax Foundation report authored by Bishop-Henchman entitled “Lessons from other states from Colorado or Washington” claims that while receipts have exceeded initial expectations, “significant attention must be given to health, agricultural, zoning, local enforcement, and criminal penalty issues. These important issues have generally been unaddressed in ballot initiatives and left for resolution in the implementation process.” S5.4 also leaves virtually all environmental, energy, and clean water regulation to the Cannabis Control Board which will oversee implementation.
Furthermore, the medical marijuana section of the bill as passed is getting a second look by the House Human Services Committee, which has had oversight over ‘medical’ marijuana. Human Services reportedly was concerned about the Gov Ops plan to allow current medical marijuana dispensaries to act as full retail shops.
S.54 as passed by Gov Ops differs significantly from the bill the Senate sent to the House. In addition to the spending changes noted above, it also raises the maximum permitted level of THC in marijuana products from 10 percent to 60 percent and contains a “primary seat belt” study clause that could lead to legislation allowing police officers to pull over motorists if they observe they are not wearing a seat belt. The House has passed primary seat belt legislation in the past, only to see it languish in the Senate. One Gov Ops member said the seat belt language may be an effort by House leadership to pass primary seat belt legislation, or at least gain some leverage during a Senate-House conference committee that, at present, would be inevitable if S.54 as worded passes the House.
Senators complained last year that gun control legislation sent to the House last year underwent a “Christmas tree” transformation in which many ‘bright and shiny objects’ were added, one by one, to the original bill. It is possible S.54 will receive a similar response.
Speaking of marijuana-related highway safety, the driver who reportedly caused the 2016 crash that killed five teenagers has pleaded insanity to charges of second-degree murder. The blood level of Steven Bourgoin was found to have a high concentration of THC, the active ingredient of marijuana, as well as other illegal drugs. Bourgoin reportedly smoked marijuana to medicate his mental health problems. In fact, marijuana is known to make drivers drive faster because they perceive they are driving slowly, and in high doses is known to cause paranoia and psychosis.
Other legislation under committee consideration this week includes:
Another Montpelier charter change. Government Operations Wednesday and Thursday will consider a proposed City of Montpelier charter change, H.547, that would allow the city to “enforce minimum energy efficiency standards and disclosure requirements for existing and new residential and business properties.” The bill would ratify an ordinance approved by city voters in March. The House last month approved non-citizen voting for municipal elections.
Prop 2, clarification of existing Constitutional prohibition of slavery. 5 p.m. Wednesday, House Gov Ops will hold a public hearing in Room 11 on a constitutional declaration of rights that clarifies existing language in the Vermont Constitution banning slavery and indentured servitude.
Tuesday at 1 p.m., House Appropriations will discuss S.23, the $15 minimum wage increase. Wage compression resulting from the proposed annual incremental minimum wage increase to $15 is expected to increase state spending by $28 million. Following that discussion, Appropriations will review the Senate-approved version of H.542, the state budget.
House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Wednesday morning will discuss H.357, wanton waste of wildlife, would give hunters and trappers points on their licenses if they leave wounded game in the woods “without making a reasonable effort.”
SR 5, a resolution “strongly opposing the basing of any nuclear weapon delivery system in the State of Vermont” will be discussed by the Senate Government Operations Committee in Room 11. James Ehlers, Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers, is scheduled to testify. This resolution is in connection with the scheduled basing of the nuclear-capable F-35 at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington/Williston.
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.