Vermont marijuana sales bill done; governor to 'take a look'

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Legislature has approved a bill that would set up a system to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana by establishing a cannabis control board and setting up how such sales would be taxed.

Gov. Phil Scott says he will “take a look” at the legislation when it reaches his desk before he decides what to do. His choices include signing the bill, vetoing it or allowing it to become law without his signature.

On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to a compromise bill developed by a conference committee between the two chambers that had already been passed by the House.

Speaking at his twice-weekly briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday, the Republican governor said he didn't know when the bill would be formally delivered to his office.

“We’ll take a look, we’ll reflect on all of the areas of disagreement, then I’ll make a decision from there,” Scott said.

The bill includes a provision for a roadside saliva test, obtained with a warrant. Scott had made roadside testing one of his conditions for supporting the legislation.

The bill establishes a cannabis control board with an executive director to govern the tax and regulate market. It would set up a 14% excise tax on cannabis products, of which 30% is earmarked for substance abuse prevention, and extends the 6% sales tax to cannabis products.

The bill prioritizes licenses for women and members of marginalized communities and requires that prior marijuana-related offenses not be considered an impediment to people seeking a cannabis business license.

Recreational marijuana is also legal in Massachusetts and Maine.

Massachusetts is currently the only East Coast state with retail sales of recreational marijuana, but Maine expects to open its first such establishments next month.

In Vermont possession of marijuana for recreational purposes has been legal in Vermont for more than two years, but the law legalizing it contained no mechanism for the legal sale of the substance.

The Bennington Banner reports that during a Senate debate before the vote, Democratic Sen. Dick Sears said the bill was intended not as a vehicle for generating revenue, but for assuring consumer safety and public education.

“Consumer safety issues surrounding marijuana led me to support this bill,” Sears said. “The tax revenue for me is secondary.”

Republican Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, warned the bill would not make cannabis-related drug problems disappear or produce a revenue source that can address the state’s financial wish list.

He said that Vermont has been recognized as being at the top in many categories of per-capita marijuana consumption, which has been sold in underground markets.

“We need to get hold of this as much as we possibly can. Is this the cure-all? Certainty not,” Benning said. “This process continues. This is not waving of magic wand in which all this is resolved.”

A coalition of activists is urging Scott to veto the bill because they say it fails to address the historic racism in cannabis prohibition, or provide economic justice to smaller growers.

___

Follow the AP’s complete marijuana coverage: https://apnews.com/Marijuana