MONTPELIER, VT —Vermont has become the latest state to see a marijuana legalization bill filed this year with a bill that would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, sold through a regulated wholesale and retail system overseen by the state’s Department of Liquor Control, introduced at the Vermont state house.
House Bill 499, An Act Relating To Regulation And Taxation Of Marijuana, was introduced to the House and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The bill is sponsored by Reps. Susan Davis (P-Washington), David Deen (D-Westminster), James Masland (D-Thetford), William Stevens (I-Shoreham) and Teo Zagar (D-Barnard).
“It’s been nearly a century since Vermont first prohibited marijuana in 1915. It hasn’t worked and it’s time for a new approach,” said Representative Susan Davis (P-Washington), lead sponsor of the bill.
“Regulating and taxing marijuana, if done right, would have net-positive effects on a system-wide basis,” added Rep. Zagar, a Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill, and supports other pending bills that would decriminalize marijuana possession in Vermont.
“Just like alcohol prohibition, marijuana prohibition does not eliminate the use of the product and simply steers all of the profits to the underground market,” said Davis. “Given the fact that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol, it is time we have it produced and sold in a legitimate, regulated market.”
“Regulating marijuana like alcohol and allowing the production of industrial hemp would create hundreds of new, legal jobs and generate business for a variety of other Vermont industries,” Davis concluded.
The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives David Deen (D-Westminster), James Masland (D-Thetford), William Stevens (I-Shoreham) and Teo Zagar (D-Barnard).
If passed, HB 499 would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana. Adults would also be allowed to privately grow up to three marijuana plants, and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
The bill maintains criminal penalties for possession over two ounces, or for non-licensed cultivation or sale of marijuana.
The bill would also create a regulatory structure for the wholesale and retail sale of marijuana, including licensing and oversight by the Department of Liquor Control.
The bill would establish an excise tax of $50 per ounce of marijuana, which would be paid by the wholesale seller.
The bill also requires that workers in the marijuana industry that would be created must be at least 21 years of age.
Language in the bill also states that penalties for minors in possession of marijuana are to be the same as the state’s current penalties for underage possession of alcohol.
Successfully passing HB 499 will be an uphill battle, says the bill’s author.
“Without doubt, this effort will be difficult and may not be accomplished in a single legislative session but the initiative for change must be brought forward,” Rep. Davis said, adding that if the bill does make it through committee and reaches the floor of the House for a vote, she expects a favorable outcome, emphasizing multi-party support of the bill.
“The political will is just not there for this to be a realistic outcome in the foreseeable future,” added Rep. Zagar, who hopes the introduction of the legalization bill this session will at least open the door to debate marijuana decriminalization this session.
House Bill 499 would also authorize Vermont’s farmers to grow industrial hemp “regardless of whether federal regulations have been adopted.” Currently, the cultivation of hemp remains illegal in the United States, although pending legislation in Congress could change that.
The United States remains the only industrialized nation in the world that bans the production of hemp. The sales of hemp products are permitted in the United States, but all commercial hemp is presently imported.
Colorado and Washington legalized the adult use of marijuana in November, and marijuana legalization bills have been or will be introduced this year in Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Oregon.