Study of marijuana’s revenue potential revived

Speaker of the Vermont House Shap Smith of Lamoille County before the start of the 2014 legislative session. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Speaker of the Vermont House Shap Smith of Lamoille County before the start of the 2014 legislative session. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Lawmakers on Thursday resurrected a push to study whether legalizing and taxing marijuana would make money for the state.

Some lawmakers were upset last month when House Speaker Shap Smith quashed an amendment calling for the study when members tried to attach it to the miscellaneous tax bill.

The amendment found new life Thursday when the House Ways and Means Committee voted to attach it to S.247, a bill about marijuana dispensaries.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, asks the secretary of administration to report to the Legislature by Jan. 15 about taxation and regulation of marijuana in Vermont.

The report would analyze three things: possible ways to tax marijuana, including sales and excise taxes; possible revenue, savings or costs to the state from regulating marijuana; and the experience of other states with regulating and taxing marijuana.

Rep. Kristina Michelsen, D-Hardwick, sponsor of the original amendment to study marijuana revenue, Thursday said she was glad the proposal had resurfaced.

The House committee that vetted the marijuana bill Thursday said it would not take a formal position on the amendment. It is unrelated to the underlying bill, which has to do with dispensaries, House Human Services Committee members said.

“To me it’s really a separate issue, and so OK if people are going to vote on it at the same time that’s fine, but it’s a separate issue,” said Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chair of House Human Services.

It does not put the underlying bill in jeopardy, she said Pugh.

House Human Services decided not to include post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition that qualifies a person for medical marijuana. They also nixed a Senate provision that added two additional dispensaries to the existing four.

“I think (the amendment) is totally different than the bill, the policy that we were setting in the bill,” said committee member Rep. Matthew Treiber, D-Bellows Falls. Treiber supported adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

“Right. And it’s not relevant to our jurisdiction,” said Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, a committee member who voted against adding PTSD.

Smith, who opposes legalizing marijuana, in March said he is not against the study but in the context of other amendments at that time, believed it was not germane to the underlying tax bill.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, who supports the dispensary bill as passed by the House, did not respond to requests for comment on the study amendment.

Laura Krantz

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