The Vermont General Assembly has approved a bill that would finally bring adult-use retail sales to the Green Mountain State, but it is still unclear if Governor Phil Scott will sign the bill into law.
Back in 2018, Vermont became the first US state to legalize cannabis through an act of law, rather than a voter-approved ballot measure. Adults are currently allowed to grow two pot plants apiece or possess up to an ounce, but all cannabis sales remain illegal. The legal grey area created by this half-measure has allowed black market and out-of-state weed sales to thrive, prompting calls for a taxed and regulated legal market.
The new bill would establish a state Cannabis Control Board tasked with regulating and licensing legal weed businesses. Weed sales would be hit with a 16 percent excise tax, plus an optional local tax of up to 2 percent. The bill also includes a number of measures that would help women or members of marginalized communities participate in the legal weed industry.
Last year, the state Senate approved the adult-use sales bill with a resounding, veto-proof majority, but it took until this week for the House to approve its own version of the bill. The two versions of the bill are not identical, however, which means that the two chambers must appoint a bicameral committee to resolve the differences between the two versions before it can be passed on to the governor.
The vast majority of Vermont residents are in favor of the bill, but Gov. Scott is not entirely sold on legal sales. Scott has always been reticent to embrace cannabis reform, and actually vetoed the Assembly's first attempt to pass an adult-use law in 2017. This year, the governor suggested again that he may veto the current bill over concerns that it does not offer enough protection against cannabis-impaired drivers.
Gov. Scott encouraged lawmakers to approve an amendment that would allow cops to administer either THC breathalyzers or saliva tests to anyone suspected of driving under the influence. State Representatives struck down this amendment, however, and the final House version of the bill would require police to obtain a warrant before they conduct a roadside THC test.
“The House has bent over backward to address the various issues that Gov. Scott has raised with the legislation,” said Dave Silberman, attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, to Marijuana Moment. “It appears the only remaining area of disagreement is the governor’s insistence on a warrantless saliva test that would blatantly violate the people’s rights enshrined in Vermont Constitution... I hope that as the governor learns more about our Constitution, he will see why his position is untenable.”
Fortunately, lawmakers have suggested that the governor is “at the table” to discuss the final version of the bill. Political analysts believe that Scott may have finally resigned himself to the inevitability of legal weed sales and is already counting on legal pot tax revenue to fund a new after-school program that he has recently been advocating for.
In the meantime, Vermont's legislators are also debating another bill that would decriminalize natural psychedelics. If this bill succeeds, it would enshrine Vermont’s place in history as the first US state to end both cannabis and psychedelics prohibition by acts of law.