The Vermont system for approval and implementation of legal cannabis continues to signal the way of the future.
Earlier this year the state set precedent by becoming the first to legalize cannabis by way of legislative vote. All other states with legal pot approved their laws through citizen referendum at the ballot box. (Important to note: although Vermont legalized the drug, it did not yet pass laws to set up a retail system.) Vermont showed that modern cannabis legislation is possible through debate and compromise in houses of Congress.
This past Friday, the state demonstrated why legislative oversight of the cannabis rollout is beneficial to public safety. A bill that would have immediately legalized the retail of pot was summarily voted down through a bipartisan majority, 106 to 28, in the Vermont House of Representatives. For now the bill has been shelved.
Those who voted against the measured argued that it was rushed. After Vermont approved legal pot earlier this year, the state set up boards and studies to look into public safety issues and regulatory framework for commercialized cannabis. This new bill could have greatly ramped up deadlines for these critical research projects, cutting short the time needed for full, thorough inquiry into critical topics of law and safety.
In other words, Vermont will continue to take its time with legal pot, rather than dive in headfirst. Which has become more normal for the latest spate of states that have approved cannabis laws.
Massachusetts is another prime example fro this group. After the legalization laws passed via voter referendum, Bay State politicians quickly enacted new laws that pumped the brakes on the retail rollout. This way, Mass. politicians could first study the stats and effects from widespread, commercialized cannabis in states where the industry was already up and running.
States like Colorado, Washington and Oregon, which first passed retail laws and quickly enacted them, are commendable for blazing the path forward towards the modern cannabis market. But public safety issues that arose in some of those states — overdosing, using while pregnant, stoned DUIs, difficulty banking, edibles that look like kid’s food — have understandably given lawmakers in other states pause for concern.
Which is why the actions last week by Vermont’s Congress make sense. Although proponents of the retail bill pointed towards the majority support among Vermonters for commercialized cannabis — not to mention the massive tax revenue possible through taxing and regulating the industry — these benefits may not be worth the rush to retail.
Because what is ultimately better for the state? Gaining additional tax revenue while appeasing the voters most eager to buy pot? Or making sure that an appropriate, effective regulatory system is in place, while also looking into optimal ways to uphold public safety?
These are the questions legislators face today with cannabis retail. The momentum behind recreational pot is undeniably strong, and the gains in tax revenue appear very real, but that does not mean that retail markets have to rush into existence.