Vermont Moving Toward Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

The Green Mountain state has taken a significant step toward legalizing recreational cannabis.  On September 17, 2020, the Vermont House of Representatives adopted the Conference Committee report for S.B. 54, an act relating to the regulation of cannabis.  The Conference Committee has had custody of the bill since early this year and was tasked with reconciling the significant differences between the bill and a similarly-intentioned, but substantively different, bill passed by the Senate in 2019.  If, following on the heels of the House’s adoption of the Conference Committee report, the bill is passed by both chambers, it will then be presented to Governor Phil Scott for signature. To date, Governor Scott has not indicated whether he would sign this bill, but he has said he would not sign any cannabis bill unless it included a provision that allows for warrantless saliva testing of impaired drivers.  On that score, section 23 of the bill proposes to amend 23 V.S.A. § 1202 to state that “[i]f [a] law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that [a person operating a motor vehicle] is under the influence of a drug other than alcohol, or under the combined influence of alcohol and a drug, the person is deemed to have given consent to providing of an evidentiary sample of saliva.”

In addition, the bill would task the newly-created Cannabis Control Board (the “Board”) with establishing a “system of priorities” for license applicants taking into consideration the following factors:

  • Whether the applicants have an existing medical cannabis dispensary license in good standing;
  • Whether the applicants would foster social justice and equity in the cannabis industry by being a minority or women-owned business;
  • Whether the applicants propose specific plans to recruit, hire, and implement a development ladder for minorities, women, or individuals who have historically been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition;
  • Whether applicants propose specific plans to pay employees a living wage and offer benefits;
  • Whether the project incorporates principles of environmental resiliency or sustainability, including energy efficiency; and
  • The geographic distribution of cannabis establishments based on population and market needs.

However, the bill does not provide direction for how the Board must prioritize or balance the above-listed factors.  Notably, the Board would also be charged with adopting regulations to establish parameters and criteria for:

  • The form and content of license and renewal applications;
  • Oversight requirements, including provisions to ensure that a licensed establishment complies with State and federal regulatory requirements governing insurance, securities, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and occupational health and safety;
  • Inspection requirements;
  • Security requirements, including any appropriate lighting, physical security, video, and alarm requirements;
  • Standards for determining whether an applicant should be denied a cannabis establishment license because of his or her criminal history;
  • Procedures for suspension and revocation of a license; and
  • Requirements for banking and financial transactions.

Finally, the bill specifically addresses the role of municipalities in greenlighting cannabis facilities in Vermont communities.  It requires that, prior to a cannabis retailer or an integrated licensee operating within a municipality, the municipality shall affirmatively permit the operation of such cannabis establishments by majority vote of those present and voting by “Australian ballot” at an annual or special meeting warned for that purpose.  In turn, prior to issuing a license to an applicant, the Board must ensure that the applicant has obtained a local control license from the municipality, if required.

Following the bill’s liberation from Conference Committee, we would not be surprised if the bill gains momentum in the legislature.  We will continue to keep you apprised of any noteworthy legislative activity.

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