MONTPELIER — The second annual Cannabis in the Capitol conference will be held at the State House on Wednesday.

Presented by Heady Vermont and Greenbridge Consulting, the conference centers around cannabis, hemp and medicinal marijuana advocacy and education. Lawmakers will be on hand to share feedback about ongoing legislation, and vendors will display their products at a free exhibition.

There has been a renewed flurry of activity to pass legislation in the State House for a taxed and regulated cannabis market in Vermont after efforts stalled last session. Two new bills in the Senate and House propose differing versions of a regulated market. Last month’s Senate bill, S.54, calls for a 10-percent tax on cannabis sales, plus a 1-percent local options tax, with sales expected to begin in the spring of 2021. Last week in the House, Rep. Sam Young, D-Orleans-Caledonia, submitted H.196, which proposes allowing existing medical marijuana dispensaries to pay a $75,000 fee to sell cannabis to the general public at the beginning of next year.

Young said it would generate funds to create a Cannabis Control Board that would oversee a regulated market. Young’s bill calls for an 11-percent excise tax, plus Vermont’s 6-percent sales tax and a 3-percent local options tax — totaling 20 percent — to benefit cities and towns hosting cannabis businesses.

But both bills face hurdles because of concerns by Gov. Phil Scott and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle-Chittenden, that there should be funding for youth and adult prevention education programs and a roadside saliva test for driver impairment. Critics of the saliva test say it does not reveal impairment, only the presence of cannabis in the body.

Proponents of legalization say that last year’s legislation allowing an adult 21 years or older to possess a limited amount of cannabis does not discourage the black market, which poses risks to buyers of unregulated, unsafe cannabis products.

There is also concern about an announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stating that products containing CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabidiol ingredient in hemp that is believed to have health benefits, cannot be sold as dietary supplements. State regulators in New York and Maine recently announced they were pulling CBD edible products from shelves.

Vermont Agency of Agriculture officials said they would work to allow hemp-derived products to continue to be sold in Vermont. The officials have also written to the FDA, asking it to allow Vermont hemp products to be sold in other states to support the burgeoning market for Vermont producers.

Eli Harrington, co-founder and COO of Heady Vermont, said the cannabis conference would be a chance for legislators, Vermonters and industry stakeholders to discuss the future of cannabis and hemp products in Vermont.

“For us, we’ve got about 30 total exhibitors, who in the evening are going to have open house so people can walk around and learn directly and actually touch, see, feel and probably smell the plants and products involved,” Harrington said. “It’s a chance for the cannabis community to come together and advocate for themselves. It’s really about education; that is the major motivation. We think it’s a good idea to bring people to the State House and do it directly.”

Wednesday’s cannabis conference program begins in the cafeteria on the third floor of the State House at 10 a.m. with a legislative update and advocacy of best practices in the industry.

At 11 a.m., in rooms 14 and 16 on the first floor of the State House, there will be a chance to meet with Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who is a strong proponent of a legalized cannabis market.

From 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., participants are invited to have lunch with representatives and share advocacy stories.

At 12:40 p.m., in the Cedar Creek Room, there will be a press conference with cannabis reform advocates and allies.

At 1 p.m., there will an observance in the House chamber, followed at 1:30 p.m. with a guided tour of the State House, starting in the main lobby.

At 3 p.m., exhibitors will begin setting up tables and booths in the cafeteria for the Vermont Cannabis Exposition which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. and is open to representatives and the public.

To learn more about the conference, visit Heady Vermont at www.headyvermont.com.

stephen.mills

@timesargus.com

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