Senate refuses House changes to commercial cannabis bill, wants conference committee

CAPITOL CARPOOL UPDATE – for the second time in the last three days, two of the three prime parking spots reserved for carpooling legislators are empty. Today in House Transportation, committee members were scheduled to take a straw poll on its all-purpose transportation bill, which includes a pilot project aimed at getting employers to get employees to carpool more and commute less as single occupants in their ‘pleasure cars.’

by Guy Page

March 12, 2020 – S54, commercial cannabis, was approved by the House Feb. 26. The Senate did not concur with the changes made by the House, and a conference committee was established today. Sens. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and Jeanette White (D-Windham) were appointed to represent the Senate. Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) said the House will address the S54 conference committee issue tomorrow.

Differences in the House and Senate versions of S54 include whether towns will be required to “opt in” before allowing commercial cannabis, prevention spending, municipal taxation, extent of permissable advertising, composition of the state cannabis regulatory apparatus, and roadside impairment testing.

Local taxation could prove to be a sticking point. The Senate bill’s two percent local tax was removed by the House. “There will be no way to to assess a local cannabis tax; the state will not share any of the generated revenue with towns and cities,” The Vermont League of Cities and Towns reported Feb. 28.

A new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that even when sober, chronic cannabis users are more dangerous drivers compared to non-users. The problem is most acute with cannabis users who became heavy users before age 16. “Scientists believe that smoking cannabis at an yearly age causes irreparable changes to the brain, causing someone to be more aggressive in their decision making,” according to a report in the Vermont Associated General Contractor’s January-February trade magazine.

Coronavirus public safety challenge: continuity of service

The biggest challenge likely to face Vermont’s public safety workers (police, firefighters, EMTs) will be providing continuity of service if workers become ill or are confined to isolation due to exposure to the virus, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said today.

Schirling and Vermont State Police leader Matt Birmingham were waiting in a Senate committee room for a hearing to begin when approached by this reporter. They both said continuity of service is likely to be the greatest challenge. To date, however, no public safety workers have been lost to service due to the coronavirus, Schirling said.

S321, a miscellaneous wildlife bill, was withdrawn by its sponsor, Alice Nitka, on the floor of the Senate yesterday. She said that in the committee process it had become a bill that she no longer supports, in particular because of a controversial clause effectively banning the use of dogs to hunt bears.