Cannabis legalization activists in Vermont can finally breathe a sigh of relief after the governor announced that he will allow legal marijuana sales to take place in the state without his signature. Although the state legalized personal possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants in 2018, retail sales have been prohibited. Governor Phil Scott’s decision to allow legal sales will finally create a tax-and-regulate system for the industry. On top of that, he also signed separate legislation to automate expungements for prior cannabis convictions.
Before being reconciled in a bicameral conference committee last month, different versions of the marijuana sales proposal passed each chamber. After the finalized proposal was sent by the legislature to the governor, he was non-committal about his plans for the legislation up to the day before the signature deadline. Although he hinted that he was considering vetoing the bill, he ultimately decided to let the legislation pass.
Most of Gov. Scott’s issues with the proposal had to do with impaired driving, taxes, and local control. Before the finalized proposal was presented to him, the governor stated that while he appreciated the legislative process the bill had gone through, certain racial justice groups had raised concerns with his office about how the proposal addressed social equity in the cannabis industry for communities that had been most affected by prohibition.
Last Tuesday, he stated that lawmakers “did move forward in a lot of areas that I had concerns about, but it isn’t exactly what I’d like to see and there are some shortcomings.” But when the time came, he stood out of the way and let the legislation pass. “However, there is still more work to be done to ensure the health and safety of our kids and the safety of our roadways – we should heed the public health and safety lessons of tobacco,” Gov. Scott wrote in a letter to lawmakers announcing his decision.
“Further, I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history which requires us to address systemic racism in our governmental institutions. We must take additional steps to ensure equity is a fundamental principle in a new market. The concerns with this bill of the communities historically most affected by cannabis enforcement were not meaningfully incorporated into this bill,” he says.
He argued that lawmakers should consider creating a social equity applicant category for cannabis licenses as well as a 50% licensing waiver for those applicants and additional technical and financial assistance. Despite the bill’s apparent shortcomings, it has been celebrated by cannabis reform activists.
“It’s a great relief to learn that Vermont will finally move forward with plans to replace prohibition with sensible regulation,” says Matt Simon, New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Legislators bent over backward to address Gov. Scott’s concerns throughout this process, and it’s now clear that these difficult compromises weren’t made in vain.”
Now that the wait for a law is over, experts say cannabis industry players like The Alkaline Water Company Inc. (NASDAQ: WTER) (CSE: WTER) can now count off yet another state which has ended prohibition.
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