The last year was marked by peaks and valleys for Vermont cannabis advocates. First, there was chatter of adult-use legalization, then, about six months later, the state Legislature became the first in the nation to pass a broad legalization scheme. Granted, it wasn’t a tax-and-regulate system that many had hoped for, but it would have represented progress and, potentially, set the table for other state lawmakers to follow suit.
Under the measure, adults 21-and-older would have been allowed to possess 1 ounce of flower, 5 grams of concentrates, and cultivate two mature and four immature cannabis plants. Under current state law, possession of 1 ounce or less is decriminalized – fines are issued in lieu of jail or criminal charges – but cultivation of even one plant is a misdemeanor charge.
During last year’s general election, Vermont advocates watched as voters in other New England states, namely Maine and Massachusetts, passed their own recreational bills. Many were convinced that Vermont would be the next New England domino to fall.
However, Gov. Phil Scott undid that legislative progress with the stroke of his pen. Scott said he vetoed the measure on the grounds it didn’t provide public safety enforcement. He wanted penalties for consuming cannabis with children present, providing youths cannabis, and driving under the influence.
Despite the veto, Scott said he would work with his Republican colleagues on a new version of the bill but he stopped short of pushing for the minority members of the House to suspend the rules during a veto session and take up the bill. He did say that he wanted to create “some kind of commission,” via executive order, on the legalization issue “mostly on dealing with highway impairment and protecting the innocent.” The commission would have been mandated under the Legislature-approved plan.
It’s unclear, but unlikely, that the Legislature will vote on the measure when lawmakers reconvene in October as Scott indicated he wanted the commission to take about a year to study the legalization issue.
Yet, the session wasn’t a complete loss for advocates as the governor did sign legislation to expand patient access to the state’s medical cannabis program. That measure adds Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder to the state’s qualifying condition list, although it requires that PTSD patients are simultaneously receiving psychiatric care for the condition.
Additionally, the new rules allow current operators to add one additional dispensary location, and will make another dispensary license available when the registered patient count reaches 7,000. As of June 28, there are 4,438 patients registered in the state. The new regime also eliminated the requirement for dispensaries to operate as non-profits.
With Delaware and Rhode Island on the verge of legalization (I mean, it’s still at least a year away in both states but in the public policy world that’s “on the verge”) legalization is coming to Vermont – and with it, industry. For nearly four years I have been covering the cannabis industry, and its emerging markets, for a cannabusiness-focused news outlet and am elated to join the Vermont Cannabis News staff in their coverage of this state’s own emerging market – without commentary or bias – in an effort to inform, not sway, its readers. Because whatever your opinion on what form legalization should take, or the eventual industry, most can agree: Legalization is more just than prohibition.