The Vermont House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in support of S54, an act relating to the regulation of cannabis.
I voted yes on S54 because I believe this legislation lays the groundwork for a cannabis industry that reflect Vermont values: local ownership, small farms, and a strong quality brand. I’m proud of the careful provisions to ensure historically marginalized populations can access the market equitably, and other specific provisions to bring both transparency and limit consolidation in the market.
The Vermont House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in support of S54, an act relating to the regulation of cannabis. I voted yes on S54 because I believe this legislation lays the groundwork for a cannabis industry that reflect Vermont values: local ownership, small farms, and a strong quality brand. I’m proud of the careful provisions to ensure historically marginalized populations can access the market equitably, and other specific provisions to bring both transparency and limit consolidation in the market. Ensuring equitable access to both markets and product is a top priority for me when discussing this bill. There have been many many amendments to this complex bill and I want to ensure that you have the most up to date information available. The bill is very long with numerous amendments and confusing to follow. What follows is a summary that I hope will address some of the questions I’ve gotten. If you would rather receive a more tidily formatted version, you can find a link in the comments. Cannabis is now legal for adults, but that was only a half measure, and only available to some. Without passage of this bill, we have no protections for the Vermont brand or quality/safety controls and many people do not have access. Vermont urgently needs to move forward and begin responsibly regulating cannabis markets. I understand that many folks want to leave good enough alone— thinking that our current legal landscape of grow your own is sufficient, equitable, and keeps national investment out. However, I’m concerned that in our current landscape renters are often left out. Renters are disproportionately living below the median income, single mothers, and people of color. If we are going to right the historic wrongs of the war on drugs and the criminalization of cannabis, we need to make sure that cannabis is accessible to all adults regardless of housing status. Since most people prefer to buy their cannabis rather than growing it themselves, it is very important that the cannabis sold in our state be tested and accurately labeled in order to protect consumers and encourage responsible use. S. 54 will allow Vermont farmers and small businesses to benefit from legalization. With passage of this bill, Vermont can begin to reap the economic and fiscal benefits that ought to be associated with legalization. Access to capital is a major impediment to people entering this market. Much of this challenge is not resolvable at a state level and is due to FDIC challenges. However, by creating a mechanism in the legislation that supports cooperatives, affirmative action for access to technical assistance and licenses, and limits integrated licenses, we’re doing a lot to level the playing field for folks who don’t have access to generational wealth and prevent monopoly ownership or consolidation. Provisions include ownership disclosures, oversight from the division of financial regulation, and priority licensing via a point system for certain populations including businesses that offer high wages, and cooperatives. Given the ongoing impact of the War on Drugs, Criminal Justice Reform is an essential part of any cannabis legislation. Vermont will continue our regional expungement efforts started years ago. Additionally, license applicants cannot be rejected due to criminal history unless board demonstrates they are a continuing/present risk to public safety. This ensures that experienced growers are not excluded because they've been operating outside of the law. Regarding criminal justice issues not explicitly related to cannabis, the legislature is moving forward with significant criminal justice reform within a few other bills and I’m happy to discuss those further. The House version of the Cannabis bill specifically focuses on supporting small business, historically marginalized populations, and increasing access to safe, legal cannabis. Here are some of the provisions that will help assist small growers and historically marginalized populations to get in on the ground floor of this effort. -Applicants are only allowed one permit in each category. -One member on advisory committee with an expertise in agriculture, horticulture, or plant science appointed by the Governor. -License applicants cannot be rejected due to criminal history unless board demonstrates they are a continuing/present risk to public safety. This ensures that experienced growers are not excluded because they've been operating outside of the law. -Sec. 904a makes explicit that the Legislature's intent is "to encourage participation in the regulated cannabis market by small, local farmers". The Board is directed to "promote small cultivators" and prioritize issuing licenses to them. The Board is directed to "make an exception or accommodation" to cultivator regulations for the "craft" tier of licenses. Craft cultivators are allowed to sell to dispensaries immediately, even before adult-use stores are licensed. -Yes, cannabis is not considered an agricultural product as cannabis requires more stringent environmental and tax regimes than we have for agriculture. However do not want to interfere with farms/farmers in current use. The only requirement for land owners whose property is enrolled in current use, would be for the maps to be updated to reflect that portion of land in use for cannabis cultivation as not enrolled in the program. A land use change tax amount would be calculated but not due and the landowner would need to pay the amount if they wanted the lien cleared or re-enroll the land if it had been converted back to the production of any other crop. All other agricultural land surrounding the cannabis could remain in current use. -Sec. 8(b)(1) again requires Board to give priority to small cultivator licenses. -Cultivators are eligible to apply for other license types, including retail, manufacturer, and wholesale licenses. Small cultivators could form co-ops to operate those other licensed businesses. They could even apply for a retail license for cannabis sales at an enclosed farm stand. -Mandating that the Board propose language to the legislature a year after passage on variety of items that will work to help small growers including: a) Language supporting work with the Department of Labor, Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and the Department of Corrections to develop outreach, training, and employment programs focused on providing economic opportunities to individuals who historically have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition; b) Regarding the experience of other jurisdictions with regulated cannabis markets that allow licensed retail cannabis establishments to accept online ordering for in-store pick-up of items and to deliver to customers and the advantages and disadvantages of allowing such services in Vermont; and c) Recommendations as to whether the General Assembly should consider adding additional types of cannabis licenses including a craft cooperative license, delivery license, or special event license. -A requirement that prevents municipalities from zoning out or requiring a vote for or against the establishment of a cultivation operation. Municipalities only have the power to zone out of retail establishments. -Dispensaries have priority licensing so that small cultivators can have an immediate market for their products rather than waiting years until the other parts of a regulated market are available for them. I know this is a lot of detail, and I’m planning a “Cannabis for the People” forum/event this spring to provide our community a chance to dig into details and opportunities so we can inform the actions of the regulatory board. I hope you can join us. With warm regards, Emilie