Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Vermont Senate Gives Initial Approval To Bill Allowing Retail Sale Of Pot

Marijuana plants
The Vermont Senate easily passed a tax-and-regulate marijuana bill Thursday, but the legislation still faces some hurdles at the Vermont Statehouse.

By a vote of 23 to 5, the Vermont Senate gave its preliminary approval to a so-called tax-and-regulate marijuana bill Thursday. Under the bill, pot could be legally sold in retail outlets beginning in 2021.

Despite the strong vote in the Senate, the legislation faces an uncertain future.

According to Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears, this vote marks the sixth time that the Vermont Senate has taken up the issue of allowing the retail sale of marijuana in the last three years.  Every effort to pass a tax-and-regulate plan has been rejected by the Vermont House.

Under the bill — known as S.54 — marijuana would be sold the same way that alcohol is sold in Vermont. The state would oversee the production, distribution and sale of pot in licensed retail outlets.

The legislation includes a 16 percent state excise tax and it also allows communities to add on up to a 2 percent local option tax.

"That snowball is rolling and it is not going to turn back. So the question becomes do we get hold of this problem and do it the right way, the Vermont way?" — Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning

Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning, one the lead sponsors of the bill, said the legislation is a responsible way to acknowledge that almost every state in the northeast and Canada are moving in this direction.

"That snowball is rolling, and it is not going to turn back," said Benning. "So the question becomes do we get hold of this problem and do it the right way, the Vermont way?"

Benning said it's important to have state oversight to ensure the quality of the product, which is something he said doesn't exist today on the black market.

"The larger danger in that is that when they are selling that product, cannabis, they are probably also selling something else that's far worse," Benning said.

Something the bill doesn't specifically address is the issue of driver impairment due to marijuana use. Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza voted against the bill for that reason.

"My concern is that we have nothing in this bill to address the safety on our highways, of our police departments, and our public safety," said Mazza. "That bothers me."

"My concern is that we have nothing in this bill to address the safety on our highways of our police departments, and our public safety. That bothers me." — Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza

But Sears said Vermont already has very tough impairment laws in place and that it's virtually impossible to accurately test for marijuana impairment.

"There is no test currently available to determine whether a specific amount of marijuana, or any other drug for that matter, would result in impairment,” said Sears.

The Senate bill also doesn't include a specific appropriation for prevention and education programs for young people. Chittenden Sen. Debbie Ingram urged her colleagues to address these issues in a separate bill.

"We are on some level communicating the message that, 'Well it's legitimate, it might not be harmful to you — you know, go ahead and use it,'" Ingram said. "So I just want to make sure that we give our young people, especially, a full picture of what substance misuse can mean in a person's life."

The legislation is scheduled to come up for final approval Friday in the Senate. Beyond that, the future of the legislation is uncertain.

Gov. Phil Scott said recently that he won't support a bill unless it includes a driver impairment provision and a public education component.

"I think that's part of where we need to go. We need to have to detect impairment on our highways and with any substance, I think it's that important,” said Scott. “And there's no rush from my perspective. Let's get it right. I mean, we can watch what others have done, learn from them and do better."

House leaders also have concerns about the lack of a driver impairment provision in the bill.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
Latest Stories