By a 4-1 vote Friday morning, the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee backed a bill to create a regulated retail cannabis market in the state.
The legislation, which will move to the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees before consideration by the full Senate, would establish a statewide Cannabis Control Board tasked with setting up regulations and a permitting system for Vermont.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said that the legislation may get a full Senate vote before Town Meeting Day, which falls on March 5.
The bill requires the board to issue permits for retail pot shops by April 1, 2021. It does not allow recreational cannabis delivery but does order the control board to examine how other states regulate deliveries and to report back to the legislature. In issuing permits, the board would prioritize small growers, according to the bill.
The panel opted against a proposal to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling weed to the general public in 2020, before other cannabis businesses can open. That provision remains in a House bill proposed by Rep. Sam Young (D-Greensboro).
The Senate bill, S.54, includes a 10 percent excise tax on cannabis products in addition to a local option tax of up to 2 percent. Those transactions would be exempt from Vermont’s 6 percent sales tax.
The tax revenue is expected to cover the costs of operating the state regulatory system, with local option taxes benefitting municipal budgets.
Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor) was the only no vote.
Gov. Phil Scott’s administration has expressed concerns about the bill because it doesn’t specifically appropriate money to pay for drug education and prevention programs or establish new road safety rules related to cannabis use. Scott has previously said he will not support a bill unless it includes those provisions.