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.

Vermont Update

MONTPELIER – Vermont could find millions of dollars in revenue by becoming the first state in the Northeast to legalize marijuana, but many questions remain unanswered.
In a study released Friday, the Rand Corp. found that if Vermont chooses to lead the region on marijuana, state officials must step into a “fog of uncertainties” about public safety, taxes and tourism.

“There is no recipe for marijuana legalization, nor are there working models of established fully legal marijuana markets,” the report states.
Not to mention that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The 218-page report , commissioned by Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislators last May, makes no recommendation about whether Vermont should legalize marijuana. Instead, it provides a wealth of information about the opportunities and risks of legalization.

Vermonters use marijuana at a higher rate than the rest of New England or the nation as a whole, according to the report. However, far more marijuana customers live outside Vermont than within its borders.

This sets up a challenge for the state: Should the state prepare for an onslaught of marijuana tourists?
“That enormous demand can be seen as a great opportunity for generating a tax windfall or as a threat to Vermont’s current brand and economic niche, or both,” the report stated.

Marijuana taxes could, in theory, generate between $20 million and $75 million a year, according to the study. The larger figure could be reached through what the report calls “marijuana tourism and illicit exports.”
The high revenues could evaporate if the federal government intervenes, or if another northeastern state becomes a competitor.

“Indeed, because legal marijuana can flow across borders in either direction, Vermont’s prospects of deriving considerable tax revenue even from its own residents would become much less promising if one of its immediate neighbors were to legalize with low taxes,” the report states. “It is not clear that Vermont has any long-run comparative advantage in hosting the industry.”

Shumlin, who leans in favor of legalization, told the Burlington Free Press on Friday that he plans to spend the weekend reading the full report but characterized it as “great.”
“It does what exactly what I hoped for, which it tells us both the challenges and the opportunities of legalization,” the governor said.

The Burlington Free Press asked Shumlin whether he’s concerned about the effects of legalized marijuana on highway safety.

“We should look at Colorado and Washington state’s experience in this regard and find out whether these are real fears, or whether they are part of our long tradition of resisting change on this subject,” the governor said.
Studies coming out of those states are inconclusive on many questions, according to the Rand researchers.
During a discussion in Montpelier about whether black market marijuana sales would convert to legal sales, Jonathan Caulkins of Rand Corp. emphasized the uncertainty.

“We think we have the world’s best data on how much that happens, and we know those data sort of stink,” Caulkins said. “Basically nobody’s ever done this before. Colorado and Washington did, and they’re still very early.”

The Vermont Police Chiefs Association is among many groups opposing marijuana legalization for public safety reasons.

“I don’t understand why we’re even considering this, other than the lure of money,” said George Merkel, the Vergennes police chief and head of the state chiefs association.

Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal cannabis—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for cannabis sales in 2015.


The push to legalize in the Green Mtn State

Supporters of marijuana gathered in Burlington Saturday to talk about the future of legalization in Vermont. Supporters and users of medical marijuana, crowded in the basement of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington, to talk about marijuana.

“I feel like people think it’s about getting high and it’s really not about that,” said Colchester resident Jessie Builta-Paradise.

Builta-Paradise was born with epilepsy and has been using cannabis therapy for 10 years and knows the benefits first hand.

“Now I’ve gone from 30 seizures a month, sometimes 30 in a week, to having one seizure every 2-3 months,” Builta-Paradise said.

It’s one of many reasons she wants the state to take current marijuana laws a step further. She wants full legalization.

But not everyone in the Green Mountain State agrees. The organization behind the meeting, BTV Green, says in 2012, 30% of Burlington voted against legalization.

“In reality, there are harms associated with marijuana but its much less harmful than we’ve been led to believe. It’s much less harmful than alcohol for the people who use it and for the society at large,” said Matt Simon. He is New England Director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Vermont State Senator Dave Zuckerman is working to draft one bill with many goals.

“Bringing drug use and something thats being done all the time anyway, out into the open, destigmatizing it but also respecting what drugs can do and making sure they’re being used responsibly,” Senator Zuckerman said.

Supporters at Saturday’s Legalization and Beyond event also stressed the positive economic impacts of cannabis.

“We argue that marijuana should best be produced in a regulated environment by small businesses rather than by gangs and cartels that currently supply marijuana for Vermont,” Simon said.

Opponents say crime and increased drug use, especially among kids, are reasons not to to move forward with making marijuana legal.

But despite the critics, Simon announced a statewide coalition Saturday–to support legalization.

“Our coalition builders will be reaching out to various organizations and individuals. Seeking to meet with opinion leaders, anybody that has a strong opinion about this, we want to find out what people’s concerns are,” Simon said.

Supporters also want Vermonters convicted of cannabis-only crimes to get a clean slate, and more scientific research dedicated to facts. But it’s a process that they acknowledge will take time.

Vermont Senate Approved Expanding MMJ law !

By Kyle Midura –
The Vermont Senate gave final legislative approval Wednesday to an expansion of the medical marijuana law.
The bill will allow more patients to buy pot from marijuana dispensaries and to possess larger amounts. The changes could also enable the production of pot oil– used to treat seizures.
The bill also initiates a study of the financial implications of legalizing marijuana for all adults.

Note: The bill would remove a cap on the number of people who can be registered to receive medical marijuana from four dispensaries, Vermont Public Radio reported ( ). The current cap is 1,000 people.

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