Vermont Legalization Bill Submitted

MONTPELIER, Vt. – A much-anticipated bill to regulate and tax marijuana has been submitted to the Vermont Legislature by Senator David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden).

“This bill basically brings marijuana into a regulatory environment just like alcohol,” explained Zuckerman.

The 44-page bill legalizes possession of cannabis for adults over the age of 21. It sets up a Marijuana Control Board, which would then be tasked with making rules and issuing licenses to retail outlets and lounges to sell the drug for recreational use.

42 applicants would get the license, but only to non-profit dispensaries or certified B-Corporations. B-Corps are companies certified to have socially responsible and environmental practices.

“Medical dispensaries have first dibs at the retail licenses, because they’re already set up to do it,” explained Zuckerman. The medicinal and retail portions of the shop would be separate, since medical marijuana is tax-free. The goal is to prevent issues that have happened in Colorado, where many people have gained access to medical cards in order to buy the product for cheaper than it is sold in recreational shops.

Marijuana flowers, or buds, would be taxed at $40 per ounce under Zuckerman’s bill. 60% of that revenue would go to the General Fund, and 40% would go toward drug treatment, youth prevention and education, law enforcement and marijuana research.

“Various societal needs relative to this drug that’s already being used in society today, along with other drugs,” Zuckerman said.

As soon as the bill becomes law, Vermont residents would be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Out of state tourists could have one-quarter of an ounce, to prevent trafficking across state lines that’s prohibited by federal law.

Vermonters can only have two marijuana plants, and can possess as much cannabis as those plants produce–as long as the product is kept secure. They can share with friends, but can’t sell without a license.

Zuckerman does envision marijuana “lounges,” where people could use the drug socially. Smoking in public would be prohibited.

While Zuckerman has introduced the bill in the past, this year it’s gotten more buzz after the release of a state-commissioned report by the RAND Corporation on the subject. Plus, a Vermont delegation including the Public Safety Commissioner is just back from a fact-finding trip to Colorado.

The Senate Government Operations committee is discussing the general topic of marijuana legalization each Friday afternoon.

“We’re not looking at should we or shouldn’t we,” said Sen. Jeanette White, (D-Windham), Chair of the Government Operations committee. “But how it should be done. The feeling from many of us is that eventually it will happen,” she said. White says Vermont should do it differently from Colorado, where voters approved legalization and the state scrambled to regulate it after.

In the Judiciary committee, however, Chairman Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) says there is no plan to take up marijuana this year.

It’s unclear what committee the bill will be referred to. That will happen Wednesday, when the bill is introduced on the Senate Floor.

Zuckerman anticipates it will take until next year for the bill to pass, considering how many committees may need to take a look at it. It would take an additional year or longer for rule-making, and to issue licenses for retail shops to set up. Personal possession would take effect immediately.

Gov. Peter Shumlin reiterated Tuesday, he supports marijuana legalization but wants to wait and see how it plays out in Colorado, Washington and other states that have legalized. Vermont would be the first to legalize through the Legislature.

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