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Letter to Committee Reps: S.54 Revisions

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Monica Donovan 3 Sep 2020

Note from the Editor: This letter was sent to S.54 Committee of Conference members during the week of August 31, as lawmakers continued to negotiate the bill to tax and regulate cannabis in Vermont.

Dear Reps. Gannon, Ancel and LaClair,

First off, thank you for your hard work. It’s been a challenging year for all of us and we appreciate the work our lawmakers are doing to keep Vermonters safe in these tough times. I also commend the big step forward on automatic expungement legislation –  any tax and regulate reform would be sorely incomplete without it.

I’ve been following S.54 closely over the past several months and am encouraged by the progress we’ve made in terms of refining it. I believe this piece of legislation has the potential to surpass anything else I’ve seen in the last five years of working closely with the Vermont hemp and cannabis industry.

However, as you consider the Senate’s proposals and respond next week, and as S.54 reaches final consensus, I wanted to urge you and your fellow House reps to consider a few things.

Though there are other areas of the bill that concern me, I have chosen to focus in on these specific issues because I believe they are the most crucial to striking a balance, lifting up small Vermont business owners and farmers, and ensuring that people of color will not continue to suffer from the systemic racism and inequality that has defined our state and our country.

  • Primary Seat Belt Enforcement. As Sens. White and Benning pointed out in a recent committee meeting, this provision will only harm disadvantaged populations, and has nothing to do with cannabis taxation and regulation. The House’s response that we will be gathering data over the next three years is, frankly, a poor defense of this proposal. While you study and gather data, people of color will suffer – and you place S.54 in peril by adding on a provision that is clearly intended to deepen an existing divide.
  • Roadside Saliva Testing. As we have stated over and over again, roadside saliva tests do not test for current impairment. We are well aware of Gov. Scott’s position on this issue, which has made removing this provision logistically challenging. We urge you to consider the severe consequences this provision will have for the constituents you have pledged to serve. Intead, strengthen things like Driving Recognition Expert (DRE) training and education for law enforcement so that officers in the field have a better understanding around cannabis and what it means for highway safety.
  • Assistance for Minorities and Women. When developing new programs to expand economic opportunity for women- and minority-owned businesses, we’d like to see those programs explicitly require grants and low-interest startup loans for minority, low-income, and formerly incarcerated applicants, as Illinois has done.
  • Local Control. Requiring local municipalities to have to opt in will hamstring the growth of the industry, create unnecessary work and bureaucracy, and has not been the standard in successful adult use states. Those towns that want to opt out will do so one way or the other.
  • Prohibited Products. Speaking of hamstrung, the proposal to cap cannabis flower at 30% and concentrates at 60% will add an extra layer of difficulty for small growers and product makers, who are a part of the small craft industry that’s the lifeblood of Vermont’s economy. Rather than impose these arbitrary THC caps, seek consumer protections in the form of strong labeling, packaging and serving requirements. It’s worked for other states, and it can work for Vermont.
  • Advertising. We encourage you to embrace the Senate’s proposal that we adopt the advertising language developed by HGO before it was amended on the House floor. This language was strong – it enabled some degree of restrictions that benefit public health and safety, while allowing cannabis businesses a bit of room to be able to promote their businesses.
  • Current Use Tax Subsidies. As fellow advocate Dave Silberman also suggested, we recommend that you refine the provisions denying cannabis farmers the benefits of “current use” tax subsidies, so that existing farmers wishing to grow cannabis will not lose their existing tax benefits that they still need for their farms to survive.
  • Priority Given to Existing Dispensaries. In order to level the playing field and start off this industry in an equitable fashion, we strongly feel that everyone, including existing dispensaries, should be given equal priority in their license applications.

Thank you for your time today. We look forward to taking the next step in ending cannabis prohibition and creating an industry that will benefit all Vermonters. Stay safe and be well.

Best,

Monica Donovan

CEO, Heady Vermont

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