Pot Bill Passes Ways and Means and Hits Appropriations

by Carla Occaso

The pot bill (S.241) has taken as many twists and turns as the stems of a hookah pipe.

The Senate-initiated bill — pertaining to the regulation and retail sales of legalized marijuana for recreational use — laid out an elaborate system to allow state-sanctioned cultivation in strictly monitored areas overseen by a state agency. That version dictated that pot could be sold in restricted quantities to people over the age of 21 — first only through existing — state regulated — medical marijuana dispensaries. Montpelier has one of the four such dispensaries. Tourists from out of town could also buy it, but in smaller quantities.

Then, after the program is up and running, sales would extend to tightly administered licensed retailers. A whole host of issues relating to health impacts, marketing, advertising, paraphrenalia, money, taxes, edibles, oils, home cultivation, youth use, prevention education, tourism, drugged driving and law enforcement came into play. That bill, “as introduced and passed by the senate,”  wound up being 95 pages long and did not allow home cultivation.

Then, the bill crossed over to the House of Representatives and landed first in the House Judiciary Committee. That committee’s majority opposed legalizing marijuana for recreational use and performed a “strike all” to the Senate bill. House Judiciary removed language pertaining to the regulation and sale of legalized recreational marijuana and left, in its wake, a direction to develop and administer prevention programs to youth. The bill also addressed civil and criminal penalties, impaired driving and appropriating money to the Department of Public Safety for forensic lab equipment ($124,000.00), forensic lab construction costs ($460,000.00) and matching funds for additional drug recognition expert training ($63,500.00).

In addition, the bill called for establishing a three-year Marijuana Advisory Commission to provide guidance to the general assembly and make recommendations on the topic by November 1, 2017.

Barely passing out of House Judiciary in a 6 to 5 vote, the House Ways and Means Committee picked up the bill and tweaked it more than a bit. Although the original Senate bill outlawed growing pot plants at home — as of course the final Judiciary bill did — Ways and Means’ version allows it. A person under the Ways and Means committee’s bill may possess an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish and they may cultivate two marijuana plants. This bill dictates pot is still illegal for people under the age of 21 to possess, smoke or grow. Then, some caveats follow about how many plants may be grown per household, to wit, “No more than two marijuana plants are possessed at a dwelling unit, regardless of how many persons 21 years of age or older reside at that dwelling unit … etc.” The only restriction other than that is a person is allowed to grow it with a permit for an annual fee of $125.00 paid to the Vermont Department of Health. Permits will be kept secret “and exempt from public inspection and copying under the Public Records Act.”

Permit money is earmarked to pay for the Substance Abuse Youth Prevention and Education fund. The bill finally goes on to call for a “Marijuana Advisory Committee” to further study the situation.

But nothing is final until S.241 goes before the floor after passing out of the House Appropriations Committee. The bill came into possession of the House Appropriations Committee the week of April 19 to 22.

Stay tuned.

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