Vermont House starts work on Senate’s retail cannabis bill

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Lawmakers in the Vermont House are working on a bill passed by the Senate in March that would clear the way for licensed marijuana dispensaries to open in 2021.

The House Ways and Means Committee took up Senate Bill 54 on Tuesday, focusing on some of the financial details.

“We’re looking initially at the fees that are being assessed,” Rep. Janet Ancel, the committee’s chairperson, said. “The question in front of the committee is, how much money do we need, when do we need it and how are we going to raise it? Some of it will be fees; some of it will be taxes.”

The Senatae approved the bill with a 16% state excise tax. Committee members are expected to learn Wednesday how much tax money the tax would generate. The Senate version would allow individual communities to tack on an additional 2% local option tax.

The bill would also create a five-member board to oversee production, distribution and sales, much like what the state already does with alcohol.

“We’re looking at every aspect of the bill, but we’re going to limit the changes we make to the revenue parts of the bill, and so it’s important for us to understand how the pieces work, because that’s the only way we can understand the revenue,” Ancel said.

Gov. Phil Scott has said publicly that he won’t sign the bill into law unless it includes saliva testing for drivers. Senate Bill 54, as written, doesn’t include it.

However, last week, the House Government Operations Committee passed a version of the bill that includes saliva testing if police get a search warrant first. Officers would not be allowed to perform the tests at roadside.

Ansel said she doesn’t know if SB54 will get to the House floor before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

“We’re going to do all the work we can as quickly as we can, and I don’t want to handicap it,” Rep. Ancel said.

The Vermont Joint Fiscal Office released a report last week that found retail marijuana sales would generate $4 million to $7.7 million of state tax revenue in their first full year.

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