Vermont lawmakers set to legalize recreational cannabis sales, though governor a question mark

Vermont could become the second state in the nation to legalize adult-use marijuana sales through its legislature if a compromise measure hammered out by lawmakers passes both chambers and is signed into law in coming weeks.

While the legislation has yet to be formally approved by the Vermont Senate and House of Representatives, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) noted in a news release early Wednesday it expects the bill, S. 54, to pass both chambers.

House and Senate negotiators crafted the legislation, which can be viewed in summary form on the MPP website.

In 2019, Illinois officially became the first state in the nation to legalize retail cannabis sales via its legislature when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed off on the bill.

In Vermont, the big question mark is what Republican Gov. Phil Scott will do, MPP spokesman Matt Simon said.

“Nobody has a clue” what Scott’s position is on the bill, Simon said. “It’s not a hard no. It’s not a hard yes. It’s a, ‘I’m going to wait and see what they put on my desk.’”

Simon said the Vermont House is expected to vote on the bill by Friday at the latest, and the Senate likely will follow suit next week. That timetable is based on this being a compromise piece of legislation combining bills that have already passed both houses.

Though Vermont lawmakers made possession and use of adult-use marijuana legal in 2018, the legislature decided at the time not to establish any system for regulated sales.

So there’s no formal recreational cannabis industry. Medical marijuana has been legal in Vermont since 2004, but the state is home to only five dispensaries and a relatively small industry.

Legislation represents a major change

The bill to legalize recreational sales would change the MJ industry landscape dramatically.

There are no license caps in the bill, and a new “Cannabis Control Board” would start issuing business permits for retailers, growers, manufacturers, wholesalers and labs by Oct. 1, 2022.

Rec sales would likely begin after that, Simon said.

There are limits, however: The bill is structured so that the Vermont industry would play to small businesses, and there’s a prohibition on any company owning more than one license of any type.

That would mean a single company could be vertically integrated, and could hold one of each license type – but no more than that.

There would likely be further regulatory changes as time goes on, Simon said, pointing out that the bill as written contains several “stupid” provisions, such as potency caps for both flower and concentrates.

Flower strength would be limited to 30% THC, while concentrates would be limited to 60% THC.

“It’s easier to repeal something like a 30% potency cap on flower than it is to pass a whole new bill. The things that aren’t great, we can improve over time,” Simon said. “Overall, it’s a really strong bill that gets a lot moving.”

Other important notes:

  • Vermont cities would have to opt-in to allow marijuana retail locations, but they could not prohibit other types of cannabis companies from locating within their jurisdictions. Cities could also add their own regulations for businesses, or possibly limit the number of companies allowed.
  • The bill would require mandated lab testing, which so far does not exist in Vermont for medical marijuana.
  • Recreational marijuana would be taxed at a 20% rate, but medical cannabis would remain untaxed.

In addition to Illinois legalizing an adult-use market through its legislature, more states are lining up to follow suit, including New York and Pennsylvania, among others.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

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