Cannabis Bills to Watch This Legislative Session
MONTPELIER — With the legislative session now in full swing, Vermont lawmakers are considering several bills that could impact opportunities for social equity and small cultivator applicants in the new legal cannabis market.
In 2021, the state Cannabis Control Board released a report with recommendations for the social equity program, including waived application fees, a graduated license fee schedule, and contributions directing 5% of cannabis excise tax revenues to the state’s Cannabis Business Development Fund and 20% of revenues to reinvestment in communities harmed by prohibition.
But many of the recommendations have yet to be codified in the law.
A bill proposed last session, H.414, would require reduced license fees for social equity applicants and funnel 10% of excise tax revenues to the fund. However, this bill was referred to the House Committee on Government Operations in March 2021 and has yet to receive a hearing.
Geoffrey Pizzutillo of the Vermont Growers Association said the guidelines recommended by the CCB are “proposals that we have long been seeking, but that recommendation hasn’t made it into a bill, with legs, this year, and the legislature has also not acted despite statutory obligations to this market being grounded in social equity.”
Other bills are moving more quickly. Dave Silberman, a Middlebury attorney specializing in cannabis business law, said the passage of S.188, a bill that would regulate small cultivators as farmers, could benefit applicants by making it easier for small growers to enter the market.
“[S.188] would help small growers avoid having to deal with difficult municipal officials; it would exempt them from zoning.”
“It would help small growers avoid having to deal with difficult municipal officials; it would exempt them from zoning,” Silberman previously told Heady Vermont. “I think that’d be very helpful, especially for folks who want to do a small grow at home, where it’s sort of an accessory use of their existing property.”
The bill is set to get a second reading Tuesday after receiving a favorable report with recommendation of amendment from the Senate Committee on Agriculture.
Another bill advocates are watching is H.548, which includes a range of changes to state cannabis law, such as “decoupling” employee identification cards from a particular licensee so that cannabis workers could move more easily between establishments.
Though the bill currently doesn’t include language specific to social equity, advocacy organization Vermont NORML hopes to change that. The group has proposed an amendment to create a delivery-operator license type, with these licenses initially available only to social equity applicants who don’t already hold another type of cannabis license.
After three years, all social equity applicants would become eligible for the delivery licenses, and within 10 years, they would be open to the general public.
Executive Director Nick Schuermann said this would create a low-barrier point of entry for social equity applicants, giving them time to establish themselves in the industry before pursuing more costly opportunities.
“We hope that [our proposed amendment] will foster a lot of connections and will foster really sustainable businesses for social equity applicants who don’t have a lot of money in the bank.”
“We hope that it will foster a lot of connections and will foster really sustainable businesses for social equity applicants who don’t have a lot of money in the bank, who don’t have decades of experience for that,” Schuermann said.
Representative Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, who serves as the chair of the House Committee on Judiciary, agreed. “I think that is an important social equity measure,” she said. “Vermont members of the BIPOC community have been disproportionally impacted through the war on cannabis. It is critical we put in place legislation that will begin to eliminate and racial disparities.”
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Government Operations, and is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday at 1 p.m. The hearing can be accessed via livestream here.