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A bill that would allow for legal marijuana sales in Vermont already has strong support in the state Senate, even before the text of the legislation has been formally released.

Half of the chamber—15 senators—has signed onto the draft bill, according to Heady Vermont, a local site that tracks cannabis news.

The Senate Judiciary Committee released preliminary information about the tax-and-regulate proposal earlier this month, and the legislation is expected to be introduced as early as this week.

The panel met on Wednesday to begin discussing details of the proposal.

Currently, adults 21 and older are allowed to possess, cultivate and consume marijuana in Vermont, but retail sales are prohibited. The new bill would establish a commercial cannabis system, impose a 10 percent excise tax on sales and shift regulatory responsibilities from the state Department of Public Health to an independent Cannabis Control Board.

A timeline for the legislation indicates that the law would take effect on July 1 and licenses for retailers and marijuana would be issued by April 1, 2021.

But lawmakers still have their work cut out for them. For example, senators spent some time debating where individuals would be allowed to consume marijuana on Wednesday—at one point considering whether adults could use cannabis in a parked car when they don’t have another viable option.

“We’ve been methodical about eliminating every possible place where a tourist or anyone can consume it,” Sen. Philip Baruth (D) said, according to Heady Vermont. “We want people to come here but won’t give them a way to use it when they’re here.”

Another topic of conversation concerned licensing fees. Sen. Dick Sears (D), the committee chair, asked how the state could “prevent a monopoly.”

“That was a concern expressed over the past three years that we not replicate the medical system,” he said, referring to the relatively low number of operators licensed under the state’s current medical cannabis law.

The draft bill also prohibits combining cannabis products with alcohol or tobacco. Vermont beer interests may push for changes to that policy though, according to Heady Vermont.

While support for the legislation is strong in the Senate, which has on several occasions in recent years already approved commercial marijuana legalization bills, it’s less clear in the House, where Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) recently said she’s “really torn on it.” Democrats made gains in the chamber during November’s midterms, though, so its chances of passage seem higher than in prior years.

That said, Gov. Phil Scott (R), who signed the state’s non-commercial legalization bill into law last year, has suggested that he wouldn’t sign commercial legalization legislation until he was assured that roadside tests could be used to detect marijuana-impaired driving.

Key Vermont Senate Committee Releases Commercial Marijuana Legalization Bill Details

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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