Vermont has become the eleventh state to legalize recreational marijuana sales with an announcement from Republican Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday that he will let a bill establishing a regulated cannabis market become law without his signature. State lawmakers approved the measure, Senate Bill 54, after a bicameral committee reached an agreement on sticking points in the legislation last month.
“This has been a top priority for the majority in the Legislature for four years, but their work is not complete. They must ensure equity in this new policy and prevent their priority from becoming a public health problem for current and future generations,” Scott announced in a statement on Wednesday. “For these reasons, I am allowing this bill to become law without my signature.”
Although S. 54 includes provisions called for by Scott including the right of local governments to approve commercial cannabis activity in their jurisdictions and funds for education and drug prevention programs, the governor called on lawmakers to address what he characterized as “deficiencies in the bill.”
“Their work is not done,” he said. “The Legislature needs to strengthen education and prevention—including banning marketing that appeals in any way to our kids—otherwise they are knowingly failing to learn the lessons of the public health epidemic caused by tobacco and alcohol.”
Pot Legalized In 2018
Vermont legalized the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults in 2018, but lawmakers failed to establish a framework for the regulation and taxation of commercial cannabis sales. Under S. 54, the cultivation, production, and sale of marijuana for use by adults will be regulated, with an excise of 14% levied on retail sales in addition to state sales tax.
“Ten of the eleven states that have legalized adult-use marijuana possession have also wisely regulated the retail cannabis market; until today, Vermont had been the sole exception,” said Carly Wolf, the state policies director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in a press release.
Until now, only Illinois had legalized the retail sale of cannabis to adults through action by the state legislature. The other nine states that have approved a regulated marijuana market have all done so at the ballot box with the passage of voter initiatives.
“The significance of Vermont’s decision to legalize and regulate cannabis sales, especially in a state with a Republican governor and through the legislative process, cannot be overstated,” said Steven Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Poll after poll shows that Republicans support cannabis legalization, and more and more, we see elected Republicans publicly taking that same stance and standing up for their constituents and their ideological base.”
“The fact that Vermont accomplished this through the legislative process is also incredibly important because it shows that representative, democratic government is up to this challenge and is proving responsive to average citizens,” Hawkins continued. “This is an historic move that adds to the momentum of our movement, and underlines its breadth and depth, and importantly, it comes as other state legislatures are poised to seriously consider legalization in the very near future.”
Senate Bill 54 is scheduled to take effect on October 1 of this year. Licensed businesses are expected to be open and making retail sales of regulated cannabis by 2022.