The Vermont House of Representatives finally voted to legalize possession and home cultivation of cannabis. Oddly enough the decision came down on the same day that Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to rescind the Cole Memo, which allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
Under the new legislation, commercial sales of cannabis would not be allowed. But if the proposal is enacted, as is expected, the state would become the first to legalize cannabis by an act of lawmakers. Because as it happens, all eight states with recreational cannabis laws have done so through voter initiatives.
In 2017, Vermont fell just short of ending prohibition. Both legislative chambers approved a legalization proposal, but the governor vetoed it. But he did lay out some revisions he wanted implemented into the proposal if it were to garner his signature. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested changes, but the House wasn’t able to overcome procedural hurdles to pass the revised bill in time during a short special session over the summer.
As it played out, the House was poised to approve the bill under regular order after reconvening for the year. It ended up passing with a vote of 81 to 63. But several floor amendments to the bill were voted down, including proposals to delay consideration of the bill in light of news about the federal enforcement policy change. An attempt by GOP House leader Don Turner to add legal cannabis sales to the bill was also rejected.
The Governor was however disappointed about how much attention cannabis legalization was getting in his state. He said, “Imagine how it must seem to a family who’s struggling to get by, who can’t afford to pay their property tax bill, to turn on the news and hear that the marijuana debate was ranked Vermont’s number one news story of 2017.”
Under the new bill, if it is enacted, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and home cultivation of two mature plants by adults over 21 years of age would be legal. The legislation initially included language creating a study commission to examine the possible future legalization of commercial cannabis sales. But before the bill was to be examined by the House the Judiciary Committee amended the bill to remove the commission provisions, which is why it now requires one more vote in the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
The state of Vermont has been successful in the past in passing medical cannabis legislation. Back in 2004, Senate Bill 76, and House Bill 645, who both established authority to license and regulate cannabis businesses, were passed 82 to 59 in the House and 22 to 7 in the Senate.
These bills allow medical patients to possess up to 2 ounces every 30 days and cultivate their own plants. It is mandatory for them to register with the state and they must get a recommendation from a doctor, but the list of qualifying conditions allows for a wide patient base.
The list includes cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, as well as a disease, medical condition, or whose treatment, is chronic, debilitating and produces one or more of the following intractable symptoms.
Medical cannabis business regulations have been described as heavy in this state. Dispensaries must go through a competitive application process and are subject to regulations covering security, record-keeping, inventory, packaging, and labeling, among other areas.
There is also a statewide cap on the number of medical cannabis dispensaries allowed to operate. Additionally, they must grow their own cannabis. Separate stand-alone wholesale cultivation operations are not allowed, though dispensaries can donate cannabis to each other for no fee. These businesses must operate on a not-for-profit basis. Currently, there are 4 of 4 allowed dispensaries operating in the state.
In the state of Vermont, there are only 3,800 patients, generating roughly 7 million dollars in revenue. However, since the addition of chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions, patient counts are up by 80 percent. There is also legislation that aims to increase the possession limit for patients to 3 ounces, which would boost sales even more.
With their new recreational laws in place, Vermont is certainly a state to watch. It’s a small state but their cannabis industry isn’t going anywhere any time soon.