By Guy Page
January 15, 2020 – A Democratic member of the Vermont House of Representatives told fellow Democrats yesterday he strongly opposes S54, the legalization of commercial cultivation, production, sale and taxation of marijuana.
“My heart is not in this bill,” Rep. Thomas Bock (D-Chester) said during the weekly caucus of House Democrats at the State House. “You’re introducing another drug problem. We’re not paying for the social costs. We’re just adding another layer of health problems. And we are going to rue the day when we brought it in.”
Bock was commenting on an S54 update by Government Operations Chair Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (Bradford) and Vice-Chair John Gannon (Wilmington). Last year their committee approved the bill, which is now in House Ways & Means to determine taxation. The Gov Ops leadership team and other sources provided the following information on key areas of concern about S54:
Local control – Towns must ‘opt-in,’ meaning townspeople must vote ‘yes’ to allow retail operations before a license can be issued in that town. Most legalization supporters preferred the ‘opt-out’ in which retail sales would be legal unless townspeople voted affirmatively prohibit it.
20 municipalities as of Jan. 13 had signed a Vermont League of Cities and Towns resolution insisting “opt-in” and a 5% local cannabis sales tax be included if the bill is passed. The towns are: Arlington, Barre Town, Brattleboro, Cambridge, Derby, E. Montpelier, Guilford, Hartford, Londonderry, Newfane, Pittsford, Richmond, Rockingham, Topsham, Shelburne, Springfield, Stowe, UTG (Essex County), Waterbury, Williston, Windsor, West Rutland, West Windsor, and Winooski. Also, Newport and Clarendon have both passed municipal bans in anticipation of S54 becoming law.
Contents and labeling – S54 permits ‘flower’ with up to 30% THC concentration and manufactured products with up to 60% THC. Sale of concentrated oils and products combining THC with alcohol or nicotine would not be permitted. The product warning labeling requirements listed by Copeland-Hanzas did include dependency “in some people” but not psychosis, despite research showing risk of psychosis when consumed in high concentrations.
Public safety – Police still have no effective roadside testing tool for marijuana impairment by drivers, comparable to the blood alcohol test (BAC) Breathalyzer. Hanzas said the State plans to rely on marijuana impairment recognition by police. Saliva tests show presence of marijuana, but not impairment.
Licensing – No individual will be allowed to purchase more than one license. “We can’t have a McDonalds cannabis in Vermont,” Gannon said to laughter by the caucus. However, similar efforts in other states – notably Massachusetts – to prevent franchising have proven ineffective as large-scale marijuana operators find ways to observe the letter but not the spirit of the law. Priority would go to minority and women licensees. Out-of-staters and people with marijuana-related convictions would not be prohibited from receiving licenses.
S54 is opposed by Prevention Works!, a coalition of 14 youth and substance abuse prevention and treatment organizations. “Important lessons can be learned from our two already legal drugs – alcohol and tobacco – of how an open market fuels great harm,” a Prevention Works! Statement issued this week said. “Alcohol and tobacco are easy to obtain. Commercialization glamorizes their use and furthers their social acceptance. High profits make aggressive marketing worthwhile for sellers. Addiction is simply the cost of doing business.”