Vermont lawmakers are at loggerheads over a measure that would establish a cap on the level of THC in solid cannabis concentrates sold at the state’s regulated cannabis retailers.
Local publication VTDigger has the background, reporting that members of the Vermont state Senate “bristled Friday at a last-minute change to a key cannabis bill during a House vote Thursday—and speculated as to why the Vermont Department of Health abruptly reversed its recommendation to lawmakers on the measure last week.”
Members of the House “on Thursday imposed a 60% cap on the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in solid cannabis concentrates to be sold at retail establishments when they open in October,” according to VTDigger.
“They held the damn thing for over a week and a half and then come up with this,” said Democratic state Senator Dick Sears, as quoted by VTDigger. “There isn’t much time to call for a conference committee.”
Sears said he was “frustrated” with Democratic state House Representative John Gannon, who proposed the amendment imposing a 60% cap.
Sears and other lawmakers contend that caps are counterproductive and will only prompt customers to seek products elsewhere––be it on the illicit market or in neighboring states with adult-use cannabis sales.
Calling the measure passed by the House a “stupid decision,” Sears said that Vermont continues “to invite people to go out of state.”
“It gives the illicit market a monopoly on supplying the demand for these products,” Vermont Cannabis Control Board chair James Pepper told a state House committee during a hearing, as quoted by VTDigger.
“There is a very broad consensus among regulators that caps are a bad idea,” Pepper told the publication. “A black market will fill this gap. They’ll do so using very dangerous products.”
Amid the back-and-forth among lawmakers has been a series of inconsistent guidance on the issue from Vermont’s Department of Health.
VTDigger reported that the department’s senior policy and legal adviser, David Englander, told members of a state House committee late last month that the department agreed with the Cannabis Control Board in opposing the cap.
“The primary reason is that there is a likely significant market for high THC concentrates, and it is more dangerous for people to buy unregulated versions of these products as opposed to buying products that are regulated and tested in accordance with Board rules. Regulating instead of banning THC substances is in line with one of the purposes of creating a regulated market as envisioned by the General Assembly,” Englander said in a letter to the committee.
“In addition, a complete ban on concentrates above 60% requires manufacturers to keep products below that limit at all times during the manufacturing process. Doing so will require the addition of additives to dilute the product down to a 60% concentrate or below. You may recall that there were recent illnesses and deaths that appeared to be associated with the ingestion of such additives.”
But the very next day, Englander pulled a 180, telling lawmakers that, upon “further consideration, with the lens of prevention and safety as the cornerstone for the coming adult use market in Vermont, the Department does not concur with the lifting of the THC limit and maintains that a foundational component of the original legislation remain in place.”
“The risk to users of high levels of THC are significant and we should not risk contributing to the known risks to consumers physical and mental health,” Englander said. “My communication of yesterday to you was based on incomplete information. All errors are mine, and please accept my apologies to you and the committee.”
Vermont legalized recreational pot use in 2018, but sales did not begin in the state until 2020.