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This January, Vermont became the first U.S. state to legalize recreational cannabis through an act of legislation, rather than via a public ballot measure. The state's cannabis law is also unusual in that while it will allow adults in the state to possess or grow limited amounts of marijuana starting July 1st, all sales of the plant are prohibited.
All other states that have legalized recreational pot, with the exception of Washington D.C., have created a system of licensing, regulation, and taxation for retail cannabis sales. Vermont’s current law creates a legal grey area where there is a strong demand for pot, but no legal supply for those who can’t or won’t cultivate their own. Some local authorities have even tried to take advantage of the situation, with one local mayor attempting to charge fees to residents who want to legally grow their own weed.
Last year, the state Senate passed legislation that would have created a taxed and regulated sales market for marijuana within the state, but the bill did not find support in the House. This year might be a different story, however, as a coalition of Democratic, Republican, and Progressive party lawmakers are now pushing for the bill to pass this year, according to Marijuana Moment.
State Rep. Diana Gonzalez has been working throughout this year's legislative session to pass an amendment creating a retail cannabis market. “You can’t buy or sell," Gonzalez explained to Seven Days. "That is still happening illegally, so not only is that criminalization still occurring, but any tax revenue from that transaction is being lost.”
Gonzalez also said that the lack of funding for opioid addiction treatment in Vermont also inspired her to look for an alternative source of income for the state. “If we had a tax-and-regulate system for marijuana, then we could have some funds to address, in terms of prevention and treatment, in ways that we know that we need,” Gonzalez said to Vermont Public Radio (VPR).
“Ultimately what we need are the votes, and in our conversations it looks like we have them,” Gonzalez said to Seven Days. Gonzalez also explained that she had spoken with several Republicans who voted against the non-commercial legalization bill solely because it didn't enact a taxed and regulated retail market, and these lawmakers are now willing to support new legislation.
“I believe we have the votes, and I believe at the end of the day we will have a surprising number of votes with a tripartisan coalition,” drug policy reform advocate Dave Silberman told Marijuana Moment.
Although support is growing, there are still several government officials who remain opposed to enacting a retail sales market so soon after passing the first legalization law. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson told VPR that “at this point it’s far too large of a policy change to be jumping into the last week or two of the [current legislative] session.”
Gov. Phil Scott, who vetoed the legislature's legalization bill last year, may also choose to veto this bill if it were to pass. Scott has previously said that the legislature should focus on enacting further highway and public safety laws before going ahead with retail sales.
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Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman said that he has talked to a number of Republicans in the Vermont House, however, and found increasing support for retail sales. “Quite a few said, 'now that it’s legal, I think tax-and-regulate’s a better model,'" Zuckerman told VPR. “So if Progressives, the Republicans that think this is the better way, and the many Democrats that inherently support this come together, I think we have a majority.”