“Will Tax-and-Regulate Actually Pass in 2019?” Interview with Cannabis Reform Advocate and Vermont Political Insider Dave Silberman

Heady Vermont Staff 16 Apr 2019

With only a few weeks left in the 2019 legislative session, time is running out for Vermont’s latest tax-and-regulate cannabis bill, S.54, to receive a vote before the session adjourns.

In this interview, host Eli Harrington speaks to Dave Silberman, Middlebury-based pro bono cannabis reform advocate and attorney about the current status of the tax-and-regulate bill, if there’s enough time to pass a bill in 2019, whether we’ll see saliva-testing for potentially-stoned drivers as part of this bill, and he’ll tell us how and why he passed out edibles to the members of the Vermont House Committee on Government Operations.

For more #vtpoli updates on twitter, follow Dave at @DaveSilberman


Eli: Welcome to a special audio interview. I am your host Eli Harrington of Heady Vermont. We are honored to speak with Dave Silberman. He’s a pro bono advocate and attorney base in Middlebury Vermont. He is a political insider, cannabis reformer and has been doing a ton of work in Montpelier in front and behind the scenes, so we got a chance to talk with Dave Silberman, check in with him, find out where things stand. This is being recorded Monday, April 15th. We all want to know if tax and regulate will pass this session. What’s it going to look like, are dispensaries going to have an early start, how much will licenses cost, what are the big issues in our saliva test on the way? All this and more with Dave Silberman.

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Eli: All right, so Dave Silberman, pro bono advocate extraordinaire. Wanted to check in with you because I know you testified this week and start with a sense of where this S54 tax and regulate bill is at right now, and what are the next steps in the next immediate future?

Dave: S54 has received weeks now of testimony in the Government Operations Committee. Testimonies from opponents, testimonies from supporters, testimonies from the medical dispensaries, testimonies from small farmers, testimonies from Eli Harrington, testimonies from Dave Silberman, and really they’ve done I think all the testimony that the– to make a decision. They’ve sent requests out to other committees for advice and reports on sessions of the bill that touch those other committee’s jurisdiction. For example, the Human Services Committee has been asking the way in on the impact in the existing medical program and to make sure that they feel good about patients being protected as this regulated market rolls out.

Next week, the agenda for Government Operations Committee is up. You can take a look at it. They’re going to spend a couple of days talking with legislate council about the bill, digging into the details. By the end of Tuesday, they’re supposed to get those other committee’s reports. Wednesday, they’re going to look at those reports and talk about those reports. And then Thursday and Friday, they’re going to spend in what’s called mark up which is where they literally mark up the bill; start changing words, start having votes on A versus B. Like do we want to have early sales or do we not want to have early sales and those sorts of things.

So, we’re going to start seeing real action at the next of next week whether we see it then, get a vote and move on to the next stage of the process, that we’re not sure of yet. I’ve been hearing mixed signals out of the leadership office in the house as to whether they are ready to move the bill forward. Once the bill does move out of government operations committee, it will have to go to the Ways and Needs Committee which is the Tax Committee and the Ways and Needs Committee will have weigh in on the tax rate as well as licenses and then zoom in past Ways and Needs which it should because those many, many supporters in. Then, it will go to the Appropriations Committee which is the committee in charge of all the sending and they will deal with the sending stuff in setting up the billboard and the salaries and how many people, etcetera, etcetera.

Eli: Well and maybe it’s a good opportunity. I know this bill’s gone through a lot of different forms. You know kind of the key components of this tax and red bill that we’re looking at, we would have a commission which would be in charge of all cannabis or at least in charge of medical and adult use. THC cannabis, right? That’s kind of the backbone of this is that we’re setting up the board that’s going to then make further decisions.

What are we looking at for the commission? I know we’re talking about three to five members and then, at the 10,000, 20,000, 100,000 even footview. This bill as it stands right now, when can I– You know, the most popular questions we get. When do I start growing, when do I get the licenses, how much is it going to cost? [Laughs]. It’s a lot more complicated than that, right?

Dave: It is, it is and a lot of that is… We’ll see towards next week what changes the house, government operations committee wants to make. What the senate laid out was basically a 2-year process until sale starts and so, if it’s two years before the first shop opens, figures probably a year three months before first plans hit the ground because there’s no point growing when there’s no one you can legally sell to. No point giving out grow licenses if the growers can’t sell it to anyone.

Eli: Exactly.

Dave: That’s the senate along with a control board consisting of three commissioners.

Eli: And basically in the regulatory scheme of this at it’s most simplistic, this commission would be kind of at the larger overseeing level and then it– In the proposals, the agencies of agriculture would really be involved in a lot of the plant regulation and then we’re talking about Department of liquor control maybe being involved in the actual licensing and enforcement. Correct?

Dave: Some of that is correct. I have her talk about having the agency of agriculture involved in writing rules around plants and testing and I think that makes a lot of sense. They’ve already set up their hand testing lab, their capacity is growing. The person in charge of that lab understands cannabis so that feels pretty good to me, but Eli in terms of DOC involvement, that’s still TBD. I’ve heard a lot of legislators in the house talk about how they don’t want to duplicate that and if we can rely on existing program for example how liquor control has agents that go in undercover without IDs trying to purchase liquor. If they can use that within the cannabis space, maybe that makes sense. They are used to doing it. They do a pretty good job on it.

Eli: Right.

Dave: The cannabis control board, yeah, it will be the oversight board. They’ll be writing the regulations. Three people is not enough to actually regulate an industry. We may see– and I think it’s quite likely that we will see that board be expanded by the house government operations committee. In my conversations with members of that committee, they felt uncomfortable with the number three and they felt like it needed to be a little more.

Eli: Right, right and I mean it’s a huge task, and this is why people ask how much your license is going to cost, how big will they be. A lot of these details will be done rulemaking but also by this commission and board itself, so you know that’s why I think people are looking for simple answers and they don’t yet exist because a lot of this work would be done by this commission as well and this is all hypothetical. I mean we have some– there are other big questions that are kind of that have come up through the bill.

I want to talk about the two sexiest ones, saliva testing and edible. Edibles, it seems like things with edibles have been kind of the stereo has died down a little bit, but I understand that this was a topic of your testimony this week as well and I want to check in and see what people are thinking about edibles.

Dave: I was pleased to be able to educate government operations committee on edibles, what they look like, what they smell like, what they look like. I actually physically passed around edibles from Massachusetts in different forms. People were interested, they liked what they saw. You know Massachusetts unlike the rest of the country where it’s legal. Massachusetts requires a maximum of five milligrams THC per portion of an edible product. All the other states have ten and so, I was able to pass around these corporate low doses edibles.

Eli: Right.

Dave: Folks have been hearing from probations about how high dosage edibles are driving people to emergency rooms. That’s a lot of VS. There are no high dosage edibles for sale in any regulated market because they’re limited to 10 milligrams and that’s a fairly moderate dose. There used to be in Colorado in 2014, 2015. No regulations on edible dosages and so, you will get stories like marine in the 60 milligram brownie and … out and hid under her bed and the room service came to satisfy her munchies.

Eli: [Laughs].

Dave: It’s good stories but doesn’t happen anywhere.

Eli: Right.

Dave: You’re not seeing folks show up in the emergency room having eaten a 50-milligram brownie because they can’t get those anymore. It’s 10 milligrams.

Eli: And what you’re talking about at the dispensary definitely reaffirms what we saw in Boston at the convention and just consumer behavior in general. People want– It’s only an edible if you can eat more than one right, otherwise, it’s a pill. So, I think the market’s choosing low dose edibles as well and that sounds like that was well received. Did anybody pop on while you were in there by any chance or?

Dave: I didn’t count before and after. Multitask that I had but I don’t think anyone

Eli: Okay, all right. We’ll see, we’ll come back at the–

Dave: They were really interested in the labelling, they were interested in the packaging, they were happy to see things like a disclaimer at the bottom saying wait two hours for the effect to kick in and wait six hours before getting in a car. Things like that I think are good public safety policies, and to be able to show the legislators that other states have thought of this already, and have figured out a solution to this problem I think was very helpful. And I do think we will see a bill that allows edibles with restrictions like no gummy bears, you’re probably going to have each portion be stamped with some sort of symbol which Massachusetts does. You’ll see either 5 or 10 milligram limits. You know, the sensible things that frankly are –

Eli: Right, right. Well and then, let’s talk about on the–I mean this is part of this discussion is where having out of state resources really helps even if it’s just examples to show because not having that consumer facing industry. We have a medical sort of industry but not a consumer facing fills in a lot of those informational gaps. I know that we have a representative who’s also a state trooper testifying this week.

Dave: Yeah.

Eli: And want to revisit the question of public safety. Governor has been pretty clear on his line in the sand as far as some roadside testing that satisfies whatever his restrictions are. What do you think we’re going to hear this week from the state trooper and in general, what’s the public safety conversation been as this bill has moved forward in your insider-insider conversations?

Dave: Well, so state trooper and state representative will be testifying in the government operation committee next week. Another is – He’s a millennial. He is smart on criminal justice–

Eli: Great Twitter follow, highly recommend.

Dave: Yeah, he gets this stuff. Also, he’s a certified DRE, so he knows the stuff pretty well and–

Eli: So that’s the billion dollar question, Dave. Are we going to get out of DREs and a ride or are we going to be looking at a saliva test as a condition for a regulated system?

Dave: The governor has for a long time been saying that we need to test, we need to test, we need to test, we need to test and despite the fact that the state test or the other test don’t tell you a thing about impairment, and frankly are highly inaccurate and even telling you whether someone has used cannabis in the distant past. Their error rate is actually quite high. Despite these facts the house last year passed a bill allowing the police to use the test by an overwhelming voice vote. There wasn’t even controversial enough to require a roll call and the bill is in the house now.

The senators always resist the spit test, judiciary committee chairman Dick Sears hates the spit test. He understands the privacy impacts, he understands the lack of efficacy of those things. That been said, if you go back and look at the –  you’ll see about four six weeks ago Senator Sears said that he would be willing to agree to a spit test if (there’s a big if) their use required a warrant. And the different the spit test and these – can make you give no matter what and the spit test is the police officer has to first demonstrate probable cause that you are impaired is pretty huge.

They will have to go through the DRE protocol, walk the line, close your eyes, put your head back, touch your nose. Those things which you know if you follow a process, at least we abuse of the spit test as the replacement for the I smell weed test as a At least, that is controlled. And so, if I’m trying to read the tea leaves and see where the legislators compromises with the governor’s will be I sort of expect that the land on a spit test with a warrant which I hate but I hate less than a spit test without a warrant.

Eli: Right, right. And you know again, nobody, not everybody is going to get everything that they want and again you know making the sausage in real time. You know it’s difficult in Vermont because we’ve got 72 days of session and then without referendum mandates. So for action items for people, I mean it seems like this is kind of do or die time not to over dramatize.

Dave: Oh yes.

Eli: But this is the time as we’re recording this on Sunday April 14th, from Vermont. This is the time for people to get activated. And so, what are the best things for people who care about this, who want to be involved, who want to make sure that their representative hears from them? What should they do? Is there a special committee talk to every rep and what are sort of some key questions that they can help answer for their representatives?

Dave: I think the most important thing for folks who want to see cannabis regulation go through this year is to pick up the phone right now and call your state representative. You go to legislature.vermont.gov. The first thing you’ll see on the top is a search bar where you can put in your town and it will spit out your state representative’s name. You click on his name, it will give you his phone number and email address or personal number and email address. Call, call, call, call. Email if you don’t feel comfortable calling.

Let them know that you want to see this happen this year. If you have specific things you want to see like for example, if you want to see small scale craft cultivation licenses be prioritized, say so. I’ve been talking about that –  legislature specifically and I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. Folks are interested in that but they need to hear some constituent that in fact, that’s something the constituent is interested in not just a

Eli: Right, right which I– Ever see me grow weed, you’d know that it’s not my primary– That’s not going to be my goal and ticket in this thing. I think that’s a great point Dave and really, this is the time for people to make move so I will

Dave: – say this. You mentioned timing. We’re coming very, very close to the end of the session. There are mainly four weeks left in the session and when I count weeks, you’ve got to leave time for the money committees, and you’ve got to leave time to the floor, and you’ve got to leave what’s called the conference committee to reconcile the bill that the house hopefully passes and what the senator pass. All the math takes time and we are running out of time so it’s important to call the legislature now and let them know you want to see it done this year.

You’ve got to light a fire under their butt or they wouldn’t take action and that is a real possibility. They just let this thing sit until 2020. And that will be a real shame because by 2020, cannabis might be legal, New York might have stores open and Massachusetts stores are growing and growing and we’re seeing the market opportunity for us being taken away from us and that is a darn thing. We need to get this going now so that Vermonters can own their own destiny on cannabis.

Eli: What a quote from the one and only Dave Silberman and things, “we need to get this going now so that Vermonters can own their own destiny on cannabis”. I want to remind everybody that Vermont is doing this view legislature which means that Dave is right. We can own this as much as we want as far as how specific this bill looks. We do not have a referendum which is going to bind us to a specific way to do this which means your voice matters more than ever and right now with 420 coming up this week, there’s a lot of partying, there’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot of goofy shit but always important to remember the advocacy that drives this education and makes us hone and people who are out there doing this work like Dave Silberman and a ton of respect to the people who come before us all and have made this possible and gotten us here.

Do not take that for granted especially this week with like you said 420 and a lot more fun, party culture kind of stuff, so we will be doing a lot of stuff coming up. If you’re listening this in the Vermont area in Burlington on 420, we’re going to be at  for the Lizard’s Show. If you have not heard of the Lizard’s, take a look at check them out the iconic Nectars for 420, Sunday for 421 bud and brunch party in one new ski. That one is going to be a ton of fun, live music and live art. What a ton of details coming up on Facebook, Instagram. Stay tuned to headyvermont.com for all the latest and greatest. We will see you soon. Make sure to elevate the state.


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