Heady Vermont has all the details…
S. 54 will set up a system for the legalized retail sale of cannabis to adults 21 and over
MONTPELIER — On Wednesday, Vermont Governor Phil Scott allowed two separate but concurrent bills to tax and regulate cannabis in the state, and to automatically expunge records for cannabis possession, to pass into law without his signature.
Vermont will now become the 11th state to tax and regulate cannabis, and the second to approve it via state legislature. Gov. Scott detailed his critiques and comments around the bill in a press release published Wednesday evening.
In September, the Vermont Senate cast a final vote (23-6) for S. 54, in favor of the taxation and regulation of cannabis. In a separate vote on the same day, Senators approved S. 234 — which facilitates the automatic expungement of many past, low-level cannabis possession convictions — by a voice vote.
S. 54 sets up a system for the legalized retail sale of cannabis and requires municipalities to opt-in to allow retail cannabis stores to operate. It imposes a 14 percent excise tax and a six percent sales tax on cannabis transactions. Municipalities receive a share of the state’s cannabis licensing fees.
The bill also contains some social equity provisions such as prioritizing cannabis business licenses for minorities, women and people disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. An independent regulatory commission would additionally be tasked with promoting small business participation in the market.
“Consumer safety issues surrounding marijuana led me to support this bill,” said Senator Dick Sears, a member of the committee that worked to reconcile the legislation over the past several weeks. “The tax revenue for me is secondary.”
Vermont legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivation of two plants in 2018, but there are currently no regulations in place that allow for retail sales.
While the bill does contain some social equity provisions, detractors against the bill have said it’s not enough, lamenting the lack of a mandatory funding stream for said equity measures.
“S. 54 creates a licensing priority for businesses that recruit, hire and put minorities on a management ladder and for minority owned cannabis businesses,” Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Director Laura Subin told Heady Vermont. “It provides for small grower licenses which lowers the barriers to entry, creating opportunities, particularly for BIPOC people who have historically had less access to capital to start businesses. It also prioritizes small growers over large growers during the initial applications period.”
Looking ahead, Subin noted the importance of pushing the future Cannabis Control Board to make recommendations that bolster equity. “The proposal the Cannabis Control Board is required to make regarding the development of programs that will provide economic opportunities to individuals who historically have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition must have real teeth to it,” she told Heady Vermont. “That recommendation should include an assessment of resources necessary to implementing such a program and achieving other equity goals and it should identify the revenue sources that would meet those needs.”
The other landmark bill that Gov. Scott allowed to pass into law is S. 234, which provides for automatic expungements of past low-level cannabis convictions, and allows people to possess and grow more cannabis without the threat of jail time than is currently allowed.
Under current law, those seeking misdemeanor cannabis expungements have to apply to state courts, which then have to verify that the applicant was found guilty of possessing only an ounce or less of cannabis — and not between one and two ounces.
“This legislation is a critical component of a movement towards racial justice in cannabis policy that recognizes and aims to repair the horrific legacy of racism in the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws,” said Subin in a committee testimony earlier this year. “It is also fair, common sense legislation that will create economic opportunities and help break cycles of poverty and criminality.” Subin also heads the Pennywise Foundation, which teamed up with organizations across Vermont to run several expungement clinics in 2018 and 2019.
While the state legalized limited possession and cultivation in 2018, possession of a second ounce or third plant is currently considered a misdemeanor. This changes with the enactment of S. 234.
The Criminal Division of the Superior Court is now required to order the expungement of all criminal justice records — including arrest, custody, and disposition — for possession or cultivation of modest amounts of cannabis prior to January 1, 2021. The automatic expungement process must be completed by January 1, 2022. Learn more about the expungement bill.
Access the text of the legislation at Heady Vermont. https://headyvermont.com/2020/10/07/vermont-governor-allows-tax-and-regulate-expungement-bills/?mc_cid=db7bc6405d&mc_eid=9d689a81c4