Vermont Lawmakers Wary Of 'For Profit' Model For Legal Weed

Jan 19, 2015

A new study says the biggest issue in the legislative debate over the legalization of marijuana is whether or not for-profit companies will be allowed to sell a variety of marijuana products.

But the "for profit" approach taken by the states of Colorado and Washington isn't the only option available to lawmakers.

The report was compiled by the Rand Corporation and it outlines the challenges and options that lawmakers will need to consider if they decide to legalize marijuana in the coming years.

Beau Kilmer is co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center. He says the two states that have legalized marijuana, Colorado and Washington, have put a structure in place to have for-profit companies grow and sell marijuana in retail stores.

Kilmer says this system is the easiest way for states to collect new revenue from the sale of marijuana. But he says it's not the only way.

Other options include creating a state monopoly modeled after Vermont's liquor stores, allowing non-profit groups to grow and sell marijuana or simply legalizing the possession of marijuana and letting individuals grow a small number of plants.

"I don't think the state is in any kind of position right now [to set up] new employees or the regulations that would be necessary at a time when we have so much else on our plate. This is just not the time to do that." - Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning

Kilmer says this regulatory decision will be the most important part of the legislative debate.

"If a jurisdiction is going to create a new industry for marijuana, you know, you may not necessarily want one that's exclusively focused on profit,” Kilmer says. “The bottom line is that there's a lot of space in between prohibition and what's happening in Colorado and Washington."

There are federal laws that prohibit the possession and growing of marijuana. But Kilmer says the Department of Justice won't interfere with state laws as long as local law enforcement efforts are maintained and steps are taken to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people.

"It also sent a signal to other states and to other countries that for the time being the Obama Administration was willing to tolerate for profit companies coming in and producing this … federally prohibited substance as long as they played by their rules,” Kilmer says.

Caledonia senator Joe Benning supports the legalization of marijuana, but he doesn't think Vermont should adopt the for-profit model right at the start.

"I believe it's the wrong message right now. They equate legal with safe, and already we see a high use of opiates among our young people." - Irasburg Rep. Vicki Strong

"I think that Vermont should go very slow,” Benning says. “And I don't think the state is in any kind of position right now setting up the new employees or the regulations that would be necessary at a time when we have so much else on our plate. This is just not the time to do that."

Irasburg Rep. Vicki Strong doesn't support any level of marijuana legalization.

"I'm concerned about the message it does give to young people,” Strong says. “I believe it's the wrong message right now. They equate legal with safe, and already we see a high use of opiates among our young people."

Backers of a bill to legalize marijuana say they're still studying the regulatory framework for their plan and it could be several weeks before they're ready to unveil their legislation.