Pubdate: Tue, 15 Dec 2015
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2015 Times Argus
Author: Neal Goswami


MONTPELIER - Legislation to be introduced next month when lawmakers 
return to the State House would allow those 21 and older to grow and 
possess marijuana for recreational use as early as July.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and 
Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, would allow for lounges, where customers 
could purchase and use marijuana, and retail outlets in 2017. Edible 
products would not be allowed.

White crafted the bill after a series of hearings by the Senate 
Government Operations Committee this fall. The committee could not 
reach consensus on a bill, she said.

The 41-page bill does not address questions about taxes and fees. 
That, according to White, will be addressed by the Senate Finance 
Committee. The bill's first stop once introduced will be the Senate 
Judiciary Committee.

"There are other committees that, certainly, it touches, and it's 
going to be up to those committees whether they want to take it in 
and discuss it," said Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor.

Personal cultivation and use would allow residents to grow marijuana 
in plots of up to 100 square feet. Marijuana possession would be 
limited to 1 ounce. Anything harvested over that amount would be 
required to be in a secured location. The private sale of marijuana 
between two parties would not be allowed, and marijuana could not be 
exchanged for anything of value except at a state-permitted retail 

"We did not address gifting because I think that is a huge issue to 
go into," White told her Democratic Senate colleagues at a caucus 
meeting Saturday. "If you make your own beer we don't say whether you 
can give it to somebody or not. We're silent on that."

The legislation includes five different permits, all of which require 
Vermont residency, related to the retail sale of marijuana.

A cultivator could have a maximum plot size of 40,000 square feet to 
supply retail outlets. A permitted retailer could sell up to 1 ounce 
of marijuana to a Vermont resident and up to a quarter-ounce to a 
nonresident at a time. A transporter would be allowed to move 
marijuana between a cultivator and retailer.

Additional permits would allow a manufacturer to produce 
cannabis-infused products for topical application. A lounge would be 
allowed to sell up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana for consumption on 
the premises.

Under the legislation, a maximum of 86 retail outlets could be 
permitted, which would average six per county. A total of 42 lounges 
could be permitted, allowing for an average of three per county. 
Lounges were added to the bill because smoking in public or in hotels 
is not allowed, potentially driving tourists who travel to the state 
to take to smoking in their vehicles, White said.

The legal retail sale and personal use of marijuana would be overseen 
by a Cannabis Control Board within the Department of Public Safety. 
The board would have authority similar to the state's Liquor Control 
Board. Retailers would be required to display information approved by 
the board on the dangers of marijuana use.

The legislation would keep in place penalties for driving under the 
influence of marijuana and other existing prohibitions against smoking.

"It specifically says it doesn't exempt a person from arrest for 
operating a vehicle while under the influence or use while 
operating," White told her caucus. "It doesn't allow inmates at 
correctional institutions or facilities to possess. Employers do not 
have to allow possession or people under the influence."

The legislation also carries civil and criminal penalties for other 
offenses. Furnishing marijuana to those under the age of 21 would be 
treated with the same criminal or civil penalties for furnishing 
alcohol to underage people. Civil penalties would be levied on those 
who consume marijuana in a public space.

The bill includes graduated penalties for possessing more than the 
amount allowed under the bill's provisions, as well as civil and 
criminal penalties for selling marijuana without a permit. The amount 
of marijuana in a person's possession to be considered trafficking is 
lowered from the current 50 pounds to 25 pounds in the bill and 
carries a higher criminal penalty.

Municipalities would be allowed to prohibit or regulate retail 
operations but would not be able to prohibit personal cultivation 
plots. Primary and secondary schools could still impose their own 
penalties for possession of marijuana, and landlords could prohibit 
the possession of marijuana.

Those already convicted of crimes for actions that would no longer be 
criminal if the bill is passed would have their records expunged.

Campbell said he opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana 
but will not use any parliamentary procedures "or try anything 
procedurally that would try and bury this bill." He said, however, 
that the Senate will need to act quickly on the bill or set it aside.

"The last thing that I think the Senate needs is for the marijuana 
legalization to be what controls the session," Campbell said. "I've 
asked them to do it in a very quick amount of time, and if we don't 
do it within a few weeks then I think we pass this off and look to 
see what other issues are out there that need to be developed, maybe 
into the summer or the next session."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom