On Tuesday February 17th, 2015, Vermont Senator David Zuckerman introduced a bill that aims to legalize adult cannabis use in the state. The bill, called Senate Bill 95, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis by an adult 21 years of age or older. It would also create a regulatory system that would allow citizens to register for a license to cultivate or sell cannabis and that would allow out-of-state visitors to purchase up to a quarter ounce of cannabis at a licensed retail facility. Smoking of cannabis in public would remain illegal.
If Senate Bill 95 becomes law, Vermont adults would be allowed to cultivate two mature cannabis plants and possess up to seven immature plants within a secured, locked facility, and they would legally be allowed to possess whatever additional cannabis flowers over an ounce those plants produce. The bill, which was 44 pages when introduced, allows for medible products, but specifically states that cannabis-infused food products must not be packaged in a manner that is attractive to children and should not be made to appear like any currently marketed treats.
If passed, Senate Bill 95 would create a Board of Marijuana Control within the state to regulate the sale and cultivation of cannabis. 60% of the cannabis tax revenue generated would go directly into the state’s general fund, with the remainder going to fund drug and alcohol awareness and education programs for both children and adults, cannabis research at the University of Vermont, law enforcement and substance abuse treatment programs. The retail sale of each ounce of cannabis flower would incur an excise tax of $40. The retail sale of other cannabis products, such as medibles (medicate food items), would be at a rate of $15 per ounce, and the tax rate for the sale of immature cannabis plants would be a flat rate of $25 per plant.
According to a study by the Rand Corporation requested by the third-term governor of the state, Peter Shumlin, legalization in Vermont could result in somewhere between an additional $20-75 million in state tax revenue annually. Zuckerman expects the state’s revenue to fall in the low end of that category, but is optimistic about the impact of both increased tax revenue and decreased spending on the enforcement of cannabis prohibition. Despite that potential economic impact and polls indicating that support from Vermont voters is relatively high on this issue, analysts are not so optimistic that this bill will pass quickly. A spring 2014 poll by the Marijuana Policy Project showed 57% of a relatively small sample of the population supported reform of cannabis laws in the state. However, major lawmakers, including the current chairs of both chamber’s judiciary committees, have expressed skepticism that the bill can pass this year, because they believe the issue is too complicated and will not receive adequate review by the end of the legislative session.
Even Zuckerman, the bill’s sponsor, seems to have tempered his expectations, having been quoted by USA Today as saying the bill has “a realistic possibility this biennium,” or by the end of this two-year legislative term, which began in 2015 and will run through the end of 2016. Because of Vermont’s state legislature’s set-up, if the bill fails to pass by the end of the 2015 session, it will be held over into the 2016 legislative session for additional consideration and hopefully, an eventual vote. While many are not optimistic that 2015 will see the passage of Vermont Senate Bill 95, there is a decent likelihood that the bill will pass in 2016, after it has been thoroughly reviewed and modified by state lawmakers.
Photo Credit: Visions of America, LLC