A Vermont legislative committee came to an agreement this week on a compromise bill that would legalize the commercial production and retail sales of cannabis in the state. The compromise reached by members of both the Vermont House of Representatives and the state Senate also establishes a framework for levying and collecting taxes on cannabis sales.

“It’s not perfect,” said state Sen. Dick Sears, a Democrat who led the Senate’s delegation to the bicameral conference committee. “There’s a lot of compromise, a lot of give and take on both sides to get to a place where we could reach agreement.”

In 2018, Vermont legalized the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis for adults, but failed to pass legislation authorizing taxation, commercial production, and retail sales.

Last year, the Vermont Senate passed Senate Bill 54 (S. 54) to establish that regulatory framework and create a path for a legal cannabis industry in the state. In February, the House of Representatives approved an amended version of the bill.

The following month, a conference committee was assigned to address the differences in the House and Senate versions of the measure. A key sticking point in the committee’s negotiations was a provision in the House version of the bill that would have banned advertising for cannabis-related businesses. The three members of the conference committee from the House agreed to drop the ban on advertising and support language that directs state cannabis regulators to consult with the Attorney General and the Department of Health to establish advertising standards for the industry.

“The proposal shall reflect the General Assembly’s priorities of not promoting cannabis use, limiting exposure of cannabis advertising to persons under 21 years of age, and ensuring consumer protection and public safety,” the compromise language reads.

Agreement On Taxes Reached

The compromise bill also drops a provision from the Senate version that would have shared a portion of a 14% tax on cannabis sales established by the measure with local governments that agree to allow cannabis businesses to locate within their jurisdictions. Instead, local governments would receive funds from cannabis license fees.

Carly Wolf, the state policies director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), applauded the work of the conference committee in a statement.

“I commend lawmakers for taking the time to work out the details of this important legislation, and am looking forward to seeing it cross the finish line,” said Wolf. “It’s about time that adults in Vermont get access to marijuana that is safe, convenient, and affordable without feeling like a criminal.”

Before the conference version of the bill, which was finalized by the committee on Tuesday, can become law, it must be approved in its current form by both the Vermont Senate and the House of Representatives. The measure would then have to be signed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. 

Whether or not Scott will sign the bill is uncertain. He has called for the bill to contain a provision that would allow law enforcement officers to conduct roadside tests of drivers for cannabis use. Instead, the compromise bill allows for saliva testing of suspected impaired drivers only with a warrant.

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