#vtpoli

Harrington: What the Legislature’s Hail Mary Tax and Regulate Attempt Meant

Vermont State House Legislature, Montpelier, Vermont.
Vermont State House Legislature, Montpelier, Vermont.
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Eli Harrington 27 Apr 2018

Since I wasn’t in Montpelier today to give the blow-by-blow of the resurrected (and now effectively dead) tax and regulate discussion, here’s some political analysis and the important parts. If you’d like full-time political coverage now would be a good time to go buy a membership or shirt to support Heady Vermont — membership even comes with a free ticket to our July 1 party, which is going to be a full-fledged heady farm jam (more on that to come).

First and foremost, Governor Phil Scott has reiterated that he will veto any tax and regulate bill that the legislature passes in 2018. That veto threat will expire in December, but it’s unlikely that the Governor would actually sign a bill that the legislature passed, and even if all those things did happen, there would not have been be nearly enough votes to override the Governor’s veto. The point is that there was never much of a chance of today’s events resulting in a passed tax and regulate bill in 2018.

Right now the opponents of legalization and tax-and-regulate are more likely to lose elections in the short term, and credibility in the long term.

So YES, this issue of tax-and-regulate is a political football at this point and very much being used for political, more than practical purposes, however, there are a few other interesting things at play here:

  • During an election year, it would be a huge benefit for voters to get a baseline on where his/her Representative(s) stand on the basic question of taxing and regulating cannabis for adults over the age of 21. I’ve got past votes to reference — voter guide coming this fall — but it’s 2018 now and things have changed. For representatives who are squeamish, there would be essentially no risk in voting yes for a tax and regulate bill that is very unlikely to become law. Politicians still haven’t learned from Lt. Governor David Zuckerman that people are more likely to support you for being proactive on cannabis than they are to vote you out because you want to legalize. Right now the opponents of legalization and tax-and-regulate are more likely to lose elections in the short term, and credibility in the long term. I tell representatives to think about this conversation in 2028 and insert their own name, or the name of another representative: “Can you believe ______ he/she didn’t even want to tax pot sales!”

The idea that saliva testing is necessary for tax-and-regulate is a deal-breaker for both cannabis advocates and the Vermont State Senate

  • The Speaker of the House Representative Mitzi Johnson (D-Grand Isle-Chittenden) has already stated her preference publicly to have the tax-and-regulate process happen through committees. That’s code for her saying she doesn’t want to spend time with it on the floor. As the person who is literally in charge of prioritizing and guiding what bills move and when, overseeing the process of passing meaningful legislation, the Speaker has done more to slow cannabis reforms than to move them through any committees. There will be plenty of options next year — anyone else running in Grand Isle? — for paths to various tax-and-regulate bills, so we’ll see if her approach becomes more proactive in the next twelve months, but I’d rather judge politicians by their records and actions than anything else.
  • Saliva testing is not an amendment presently, but may be re-introduced into this (and all future) tax-and-regulate bill. The idea that saliva testing is necessary for tax-and-regulate is a deal-breaker for both cannabis advocates and the Vermont State Senate.
  • House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) is walking a political line here as a Republican who would be — and already is — defying Governor Phil Scott. Representative Turner has probably likely definitely been getting an earful from plenty of pissed off Republicans who aren’t happy about the Gov’s new stance on gun control. Does that mean Rep. Turner is going to get behind tax-and-regulate sincerely? Is he using a popular, nonpartisan weed bill as a way to get back at the Governor? Are the rumors true that he might stay in politics after this session?

It’s still extremely important that advocates use this excuse to remind their representatives how significant cannabis reform is as an issue.

  • The bills themselves provide an in-depth look at ALL of the various issues that will be considered with tax and regulate, and there’s a reason they’re each a billion pages. If you really want to get into the marijuanas in terms of the policy details, I’d highly recommend you read bills H.167, H.490, the RAND Report, the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative Report, and the last three years of Heady Vermont political reporting.
  • From an advocacy standpoint, it’s still extremely important that advocates use this excuse to remind their representatives how significant cannabis reform is as an issue. Even if you hate the plant, the impact this is going to have — and has already and is already having — on the state of Vermont is tremendous. It’s the responsibility of any and all representatives and civil servants to keep in mind that, metaphorically, the world is moving under our feet no matter where we think we’re walking! Our representatives need to start getting familiar with questions about who gets licenses, where stores are located, and what kind of cannabis future your community wants you to represent.

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