Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), second from left, discusses legalizing marijuana at a Statehouse meeting in November.
Vermonters over age 21 would be able to legally grow and use marijuana starting in July 2016, and could start buying the drug for recreational use in stores and lounges a year later under a bill that Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) will introduce next month.
White, chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, unveiled her bill Saturday at a meeting of Senate Democrats. Senate committees are expected to work on the legislation next month, though political leaders have made clear there’s no guarantee legalization will pass in 2016.
White’s committee has been meeting throughout the summer and fall to discuss how to go about legalizing marijuana in Vermont. What White came up with is a 41-page bill she is sponsoring herself, as committee members lacked consensus on the issue.
Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell (D-Windsor), who opposes legalization, said he won’t stop work on the bill, but he’s prepared to limit the amount of time the Senate spends on the issue.
“The last thing I think the Senate needs is for marijuana legalization to be what controls the session," Campbell told Senate Democrats on Saturday. “We do not want this to be a controlling issue.”
The leash he offered was fairly short. “If we don’t do this within a few weeks, then I think we pass this off … maybe into the next biennium,” Campbell said.
White is proposing to have the Department of Public Safety oversee regulation of marijuana through a new entity called the Cannabis Control Board. The board, modeled after the Liquor Control Board, would establish and enforce rules related to growing, using and selling marijuana, White said.
White’s bill allows for a limited number of permits to be issued to Vermont residents to grow marijuana in secure settings, to manufacture marijuana-related products such as creams and to sell marijuana to consumers.
No more than 84 stores would be permitted to sell up to one ounce to Vermonters and one-quarter ounce to out-of-staters.
As many as 42 lounges would be permitted to sell up to one-quarter ounce for on-premise consumption, much like bars now serve alcohol.
Senators who heard White’s proposal Saturday noted the oddity of allowing marijuana users to smoke in lounges while tobacco users are not allowed to smoke in bars. White explained the rationale: If the bill didn’t allow for marijuana lounges, out-of-state skiers, for example, would not have a place to legally consume the drug. That might prompt them to sneak it into hotels or consume in their cars, she said.
The bill does not legalize sale or consumption of edible marijuana products such as brownies. People also would not be able to consume marijuana in public, White said. Landlords and employers would be allowed to prohibit possession or consumption on their premises.
White’s bill will be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is likely to make changes with input from other committees. It would be up to the Senate Finance Committee to determine the amount of fees and taxes for permits and marijuana sales, she said.
If the bill passes the Senate, it would also need approval of the House and Gov. Peter Shumlin to become law. Shumlin has said he supports the idea but has yet to decide if the time is right.