Earlier this year, the Vermont House and Senate approved separate versions of S.54, legislation that would establish a taxed-and-regulated system for legal cannabis sales, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic kept lawmakers from working out the differences in their proposals before sending a final bill to Gov. Phil Scott.
Now, the bill is again moving forward in the legislature, Burlington Free Press reported, as the House and Senate started a meeting in a Committee of Conference Aug. 19 to reconcile the differences in their versions of the bill.
The committee members working on the final legislation include Rep. John Gannon (D-Wilmington), Rep. Robert LaClair (R-Barre), Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais), Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) and Sen. Joseph Benning (R-Caledonia), the news outlet reported.
Once completed, the bill will be sent to the House and Senate for majority vote, and if approved, it would then be sent to Scott to be signed into law or vetoed, according to Burlington Free Press.
The last activity on the bill was March 13, when the legislature adjourned due to the pandemic, the news outlet reported. The conversation then centered on the structure of the Cannabis Control Board, which would regulate and oversee the cannabis market, and there was some debate over whether Scott would support the bill if it required police to have a warrant to test for THC levels in drivers, according to Burlington Free Press.
Now, the House and Senate appear divided over a provision in the bill that would more strictly enforce seatbelt laws, according to a Vermont Public Radio report, while a coalition of racial justice and agriculture groups has voiced its opposition to the legislation.
The House wants “primary enforcement” of mandatory seatbelt use, the news outlet reported, which would let police stop drivers if they see a seatbelt violation. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sears, on the other hand, is questioning how the provision even made it into the bill, and called it a “non-starter,” according to Vermont Public Radio.
Meanwhile, a coalition including Justice For All, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, the Vermont Growers Association, Rural Vermont and Trace, a Vermont-based company that has developed a blockchain-based tracking system for cannabis and hemp, says lawmakers should go back to the drawing board and address issues impacting local agriculture and racial equity, the news outlet reported.
The conference committee has agreed to meet again to work out their differences, according to Vermont Public Radio, and the full legislature reconvenes next week.
If S.54 does not become law by the end of the current legislative session, lawmakers would need to start over with a new bill in the next session, Burlington Free Press reported.