Racial justice organization condemns cannabis bill

Marijuana users and advocates in Vermont are calling on Governor Phil Scott to veto a cannabis bill.
Published: Oct. 4, 2020 at 9:07 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 5, 2020 at 9:02 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Marijuana users and advocates in Vermont are calling on Gov. Phil Scott to veto a cannabis bill.

A group of about 50 people met outside the Vermont Statehouse on Sunday to voice their concerns that Senate Bill 54, which seeks to regulate cannabis.

The group believes the legislation fails to address the current impact systemic racism has on the cannabis industry, as well as the historical, social and economic impact cannabis has on BIPOC communities disproportionately harmed by the criminalization of marijuana.

According to the Legislature’s website, the purpose of the bill is to establish a comprehensive regulatory system for the production and sale of cannabis and cannabis products in Vermont.

The bill also seeks to create the Cannabis Control Board as the independent regulatory authority for a commercial cannabis market. The board would be responsible for adopting regulations and administering a licensing program, including compliance and enforcement, for cannabis establishments.

It would also create a 12-member appointed advisory board composed of members with expertise in public health, systemic social justice and equity issues, women and minority-owned business ownership, substance misuse prevention and the cannabis industry.

People against the bill, like Mark Hughes of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, have questions and concerns about who would appoint people to sit on that board.

Hughes says a major question the VRJA has is who will pay and who will profit? The organization recently sent a 15-page document of proposals to the Legislature.

“If we were to establish a model where we would have these integrated businesses— folks that are currently dispensaries and they will have multiple licenses— we know that these are multimillion-dollar businesses. We know that they have the resources, they have the capital. They’re going to be the ones that are more capable of paying into the system,” Hughes said. “So some of the proposals we put forward is the creative process whereby those thriving businesses would be incentivized to reach back and forward these businesses that are disproportionately impacted.”

During Sunday’s rally, Hughes spoke directly to the WCAX News camera to address Gov. Scott.

“What we’re asking you to do is very simple. Please. Listen to the 99%. Don’t try to make this about politics. Just make it about what’s right. Do the right thing,” Hughes said.

Geoffrey Pizzutillo of the Vermont Growers Association says he doesn’t want the bill to pass because he thinks it would be detrimental to the cannabis community.

“If the bill were to pass into law— which we hope that it doesn’t— what that would mean for the cannabis community and professionals across the state and the hundreds of families that are actively engaged in Vermont’s unfortunately still illicit market, they won’t transition over to the legal market,” he said. “Without any sort of viable option for them, without any reasonable way for these families to have a livelihood, which Senate Bill 54 denies them, that just keeps them in the shadows. It keeps them operating underground.”

The bill was delivered to the governor on Oct. 1. He can either sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

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