A broader legalization of recreational cannabis is one step closer in Vermont. The state’s General Assembly gave its initial approval for S. 54, a bill that would regulate recreational cannabis on Wednesday, in a preliminary vote of 90-54. 

Vermont became the first state in the country to pass a recreational cannabis legalization bill in 2018. Act 86 gave permission for small scale possession and home cultivation, authorizing adults 21 years and older to have up to one ounce of cannabis or five grams of hash on their person, and grow four immature and two mature cannabis plants.

S. 54 would expand on those activities, insuring for a dispensary sales system that would be taxed at 20 percent, among other changes to the state’s existing cannabis reality.

The next step is for the chamber to hear additional amendments on the legislation, among them limits on the kinds of advertising to which cannabis companies will have access. That discussion is scheduled to take place today. 

Vermont’s Senate has already approved its own version of the cannabis expansion bill, which differs from the House’s version on various issues. Among those includes an option for local governments to institute their own tax on cannabis products — the Senate’s version ensures a two percent option; the House nixed local taxes entirely on Wednesday. 

Another way the two versions differ in on retail tax rates. The Senate wants a 16 percent tax, while the current version of S. 54 calls for 20 percent. 

Should the House bill be passed, the two plans will go to a conference committee to resolve the variations. That final version must get approval from both chambers, and then the governor. 

Representative Anne Donahue authored a cannabis advertising amendment for the bill. In an interview, she emphasized the importance of thinking through the possible impacts of cannabis legalization. 

“It’s not about some radical extreme health risk,” Donahue said. “The problem is the minimization of the actual risk that’s going on. We know that it’s not nothing. We have psychosis induced by marijuana and so forth.”

The Details

S. 54 bans flavored vaporizer products and would institute a 60 percent THC cap in concentrates and a 30 percent cap on THC potency in vapes. But it makes a key distinction in this area between recreational and medicinal products, which would not be subject to the same limitations. 

The plan institutes a state cannabis regulatory agency whose members will be appointed by Governor Phil Scott. 

Scott’s not yet sure if he wants the job. The governor has indicated only partial support for the cannabis legalization plan, saying that he won’t sign the final draft if it does not cover his central concerns, namely regarding public safety and the institution of saliva tests for suspected impaired drivers. 

This year, Scott has already vetoed a bill to institute a family leave policy and a minimum wage increase. The latter veto was overturned by the House of Representatives by a two-thirds vote. 

The state government has been preparing residents for what appears to be the impending appearance of commercial industry. In December, the Health Department debuted a website called “Let’s Talk Cannabis”, which aims to educate on the plant and its consumption.

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