Lawmakers explain why they voted as they did on S54, commercial cannabis, and H926, Act 250 revision
By Guy Page
March 4, 2020 – Lawmakers’ explanations of their votes of S54, commercial cannabis, and H926, the revision of Act 250, offer insight into why both of these bills drew both support and opposition from members of both the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
H926 will now go to the Senate for review. Peter Walke, the new commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, reportedly told Seven Days that the bill may fail. There was dissatisfaction about the 11th-hour reinstatement of nine-member regional review boards over one, quasi-judicial review board. S54 has been approved by both Senate and House but significant changes made by the House must be considered by the Senate. A conference committee is likely. Both bills are considered fair-to-good candidates for a gubernatorial veto, depending on the final version sent to Gov. Scott.
Regarding S54, Rep. Mary Hooper (D-Montpelier) mentioned (see comments below) what few lawmakers and reporters have heretofore discussed: the likely increase in marijuana-related traffic stops, including on minorities. If Vermont follows suit with other ‘commercial cannabis’ states like Colorado, both revenue-conscious lawmakers and the lobbyists for the profit-motivated cannabis industry will insist on tighter policing on the black market, which is highly competitive with the legal market.
Lawmakers’ comments are published the daily House Journal, which is available online at www.legislature.vermont.gov. The following are a selection of comments about these two bills.
Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P-Middletown Springs) voted yes on H926:
“This bill is a perfect example of our work never being done. Is there more to do? Certainly. Is the bill perfect? Certainly not. But this bill does make considered and needed steps in an area that is guaranteed to aggravate everybody at some point.”
Kari Dolan (D-Waitsfield) voted yes on H926:
“I support the bill’s attention to the challenges facing Vermont now and over the next 50 years. I support the added protections for intact forests and for making Vermont’s communities more resilient to flooding and other impacts from a changing climate.”
Anne Donahue (R-Northfield) voted no on H926:
“Act 250 provides vital protections to our state. This bill has good elements, but also opens the door to new issues that will add to the complexity, and the lack of consistency and predictability, that have dogged Act 250 for so long. Today’s amendments narrowed some of those doors, but not enough to convince me that the positive elements outweigh the many new burdens it will create. This is not an Act 250 reform bill.”
Lucy Rogers (D-Waterville) voted yes on H926:
“I voted yes out of appreciation for the additional exemptions from Act 250 for trails, village centers, and the forest products industry. However, I speak directly for my constituents and many other Vermonters when I share a deep concern that this current bill does not substantively address the length of time or level of expense required to go through the Act 250 process, or the inconsistency with which Act 250 is applied in different regions of the state. I sincerely hope that we will follow through with addressing these issues within the current legislative biennium.”
Linda Joy Sullivan (D-Dorset) voted no on H926:
“I voted no as I am disappointed that after all the time spent on this bill that the need to correct the de novo review process was passed over. I am further disappointed that the discussions did not move away from ‘Isn’t it great to use this bill as an avenue to address climate change’ to one where the discussion was focused on the collective prosperity of Vermont and how business development combined with natural resource preservation may have better gotten us to a bill that preserved all the good we are blessed to have. Regulatory schemes and processes that are not predictable in application, that use vague standards, that are uncertain as to the potential for delay, are killers to new investment and growth.”
Jim Harrison (R-Chittenden) voted for S54, commercial cannabis:
“I am not a fan of recreational marijuana. I voted against legalization two years ago. I was on the losing side and the use of the product is now legal in Vermont to those over 21. The pragmatic side of me is to go forward in a way that is regulated and taxed, which is why I voted in support of S.54.”
Mary Hooper (D-Montpelier) explained her no vote on S54, commercial cannabis:
“I voted no. The issue I can not resolve is the effect of this bill on people of color. I once asked the defender general why people become involved in the justice system. I thought he’d say something about poverty or crime. He said, simply, car stops. A car stop begins the chain of events that results in 12% of the population of our prisons being people of color. I am convinced this bill will result in more cars stops. I know that there is an intention to address issues of racial justice in other bills. The good intention to address these issues, doesn’t offset the very real likelihood that this bill will ensure that we will continue to sweep people of color up in the justice system. As attractive as a regulated system is, I can’t support doing it at the expense of our friends, neighbors and children, whose skin happens to be a different color.”