Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana Sales, Setting Up House Fight | Off Message

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana Sales, Setting Up House Fight


  • Luke Eastman
The Vermont Senate gave final approval Friday to legislation that would establish a state-regulated retail marijuana market by April 2021.

The bill would impose a 16 percent tax on the sale of cannabis products, with potential for an additional 2 percent local option tax. A state Cannabis Control Board would be responsible for regulation and licensing of all stages of the supply chain for legal weed. The bill calls on the board to prioritize Vermont businesses owned by women and minorities as it considers license applications.

Licenses for growers would be issued by December 2020, and separate licenses for processing facilities, wholesalers and retailers would be phased in over the following months.

The Senate has repeatedly passed similar legislation in recent years, but none of those proposals has made it through the Vermont House. Lawmakers in the latter chamber agreed last year to legalize cannabis cultivation and use by adults but refused to endorse a plan that would allow the sale of weed.

Representatives who favor a regulated market say they’re optimistic that last year’s elections put enough proponents in the House to approve a tax and regulate model.

Rep. Sam Young (D-Glover) has introduced his own bill to tax and regulate marijuana, but he said he expects the House to focus on the Senate bill instead of his. Young’s legislation would allow existing medical marijuana dispensaries to conduct retail sales to the public in January 2020, but members of the Senate Judiciary Committee declined to add a similar provision because of concerns that doing so would create an unfair market.
Young said he prefers his plan, which would require participating dispensaries to pay a hefty fee to the state, but he doesn't consider it a must-pass part of the bill.

“I wanted to see some money up front, but we’ll let the committees that deal with it make those decisions,” he said.

Whichever proposal ends up before the 150-member House, Young said it’s likely to have support from a majority of his colleagues.

Asked how many would back the bill, Young said, “I feel like we’re in the 80s. It’s always going to be the little details that make people decide whether they want to support it or not, but I feel like we have a strong majority.”

Republican Gov. Phil Scott has pledged to veto legislation that fails to direct funds to youth prevention or set specific policies to enhance road safety. The Senate bill includes neither provision.

If the legislation passes both chambers and Scott issues a veto, lawmakers could override it with the support of two-thirds of each chamber. Though the bill passed by voice vote on Friday, the Senate voted 23 to 5 to advance it in a procedural vote Thursday, suggesting that at least the Senate could override a veto.