POSTED BY COLIN FLANDERS
The bill that would create a legal retail cannabis market in Vermont narrowly cleared its final House committee on Monday, paving the way for a long-anticipated vote on the floor later this week. The House Appropriations Committee voted 6-5 in favor of advancing S.54 to the full House, where lawmakers expect to take up the measure Wednesday. If it passes, it would then head to a conference committee, where House and Senate negotiating teams would seek to reconcile their versions of the bill, which offer different tax structures and competing philosophies on how much local control should be given to municipalities. The bill would then need to pass the two chambers again before heading to Gov. Phil Scott, who has said he's open to considering the legislation as long as it contains several key provisions. The committee proposed language Monday that would seem to meet at least one of Scott's main goals, carving out 30 percent of future tax revenues for prevention efforts. It would also set aside monies for afterschool programs, an initiative Scott floated during his State of the State address earlier this year. Supporters of S.54 argue that Vermont's current approach — allowing people to grow and possess limited amounts of weed without giving them the ability to purchase it — has only strengthened the black market, while preventing the state from taking in much-needed tax revenues. Pragmatic arguments have won over some Republicans initially opposed to legalization. But other lawmakers, including some Democrats, harbor concerns over health impacts and the potential for more youth usage. Still, after years of work, cannabis advocates say they are confident the legislation will finally pass the House this time. After Monday's vote, they once again urged lawmakers to act. “Vermonters should be proud of their elected officials for heeding the will of voters and advancing this important legislation," wrote Matt Simon, New England political director at the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. "It’s time for the House to join the Senate in recognizing that prohibition has failed, and that Vermonters are overwhelmingly ready for a more sensible approach to cannabis."