Pipe Dream? Bill Envisions Vermont Pot Lounges, Stores | Off Message

Pipe Dream? Bill Envisions Vermont Pot Lounges, Stores

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Up to 42 retail marijuana stores would open in the Green Mountain State, and Vermonters who have reached age 21 could buy an ounce of pot. Some people, though, might prefer bellying up to the bar at a marijuana lounge and consume some on the spot.

That’s what legalized recreational marijuana use could look like here, at least under matching bills legislators are introducing.

Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) introduced S.95 today and 
and Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) said he will introduce an identical bill in the House this week. They are hoping their detailed plan will bring new focus to the debate.  

That it might do, though their bills are unlikely to get very far this year. Key state leaders have said they want to wait for more information about how fledgling legalization laws are working in Colorado and other states. Earlier this year, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) indicated legalization wouldn’t make it onto their agenda: "I don't expect it to come up this session,” he said.

The sponsors want marijuana to be regulated much like alcohol is. “More than 75 years of criminalizing marijuana has failed to prevent marijuana use,” says an advance copy of the legislation, obtained by Seven Days. “Responsible use of marijuana should be treated the same as responsible use of alcohol.”

The bill’s 43 pages detail a possible weed bureaucracy. A new marijuana board would decide its cost. The goal, the bill notes, would be to make it affordable enough to undercut the illicit market.

The bill includes lessons learned from Colorado, where retail sales became legal last year, Pearson said. Unlike in Colorado, the number of stores would be limited, to no more than 42. “We don’t want them on every street corner,” Pearson said. And regulators would determine how strong a single-serving marijuana product could be. That's meant to avoid problems seen in Colorado with over-consumption of marijuana edibles.

Other highlights:
  • The state would grant permits to Vermont nonprofit organizations or benefit corporations to operate as cultivators, product manufacturers, testing labs, retail stores or lounges. “We want the money to stay local,” Pearson said.

  • Prospective establishments would pay a $2,000 application fee. For annual fees, cultivators would pay $1,000 to $50,000, depending on size; retail stores, $30,000; lounges, $10,000; and product manufacturers and testing labs, $5,000.
     
  • A paid, five-member Marijuana Control Board, appointed by the governor, would set rules and oversee growers’ and sellers’ operations. 

  • Local communities could restrict or exclude marijuana operations. Smoking marijuana would be prohibited in public. 

  • Out-of-staters could buy up to a quarter ounce. The state would levy a $40-an-ounce tax on marijuana. Zuckerman said he expects that would generate $25 million a year just from in-state sales.

  • Of the tax revenues, 60 percent would go to the state’s general fund; 10 percent to the Agency of Human Services for educational and criminal justice programs; 10 percent to the Public Safety Department for enforcement; 5 percent to municipalities that host operations; 5 percent to municipalities that host stores; 2.5 percent for restorative justice programs; 2.5 percent to youth substance abuse funds; and 5 percent to the University of Vermont — for marijuana research.

  • The bill would allows Vermonters to legally grow up to two mature and seven immature plants in a secure, indoor facility.



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