Vermont legislators are incredibly close to finalizing a bill that would establish cannabis sales, but an unrelated seatbelt policy clause could throw a wrench in the progress.
The “S. 54 Committee of Conference” was held digitally on August 19 via a YouTube livestream. There, a bicameral panel worked to compare and contrast between the House and Senate versions of what is now Senate Bill 54. The committee consisted of State Representative Rob LaClair, State Representative John Gannon, State Representative Janet Ancel, State Senator Dick Sears, State Senator Jeanette K. White, State Senator Joe Benning and Vermont Office of Legislative Council Attorney Michele Childs. However, one of the main topics that they couldn’t agree on was in regards to seatbelts.
Vermont House representatives wanted to include a section in the bill that would allow police to pull people over if they aren’t wearing seatbelts, but members of the Vermont Senate called this addition a “deal killer.” “If the House is going to insist on this provision, then we might as well walk away,” said State Senator Dick Sears.
The Vermont House responded that they consider this clause to be critical and would address concerns about highway safety. The Vermont Senate claims that this would give the police more reason to pull people over without clear cause. “A police officer will look for any reason they can to pull over a car,” said State Senator Joe Benning. “Once you open this door, you are going to radically increase the number of stops. That’s going to have an impact, especially on people of color.”
If the House and Senate can come to an agreement, Vermont cannabis legislation could happen in a matter of weeks. At that point, Senate Bill 54 would need to be approved by the Joint Rules Committee, and then it can be sent to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk for approval. The committee is set to discuss the matter again when they reconvene on August 24 and August 31.
Vermont legalized possession of cannabis for up to one ounce, and allows two personal plants for cultivation, in 2018. There isn’t any foundation for recreational cannabis sales in the state yet, but if Senate Bill 54 then it could set the state of Vermont on a positive trajectory toward more jobs and revenue.