Our Opinion | Vermont's tax and regulate's time has come for cannabis

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On Thursday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the Granite State and tax it at a rate of 9 percent at retail shops and 5 percent wholesale.

There's no guarantee that the New Hampshire State Senate will go along with the proposal, and there are questions whether the measure has the two-thirds support in either house of the Legislature to sustain an expected veto from Gov. Chris Sununu.

That gets us thinking about whether Vermont, which has already legalized possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, ought to get out in front of its neighbor across the Connecticut River and finally make the regulation, purchase and sale of marijuana legal as well.

The State Senate overwhelmingly passed a tax and regulate bill, S.54, in February. It would make it possible for dispensaries to start selling marijuana as early as 2021, and tax the stuff at a combined tax rate of 18 percent. The question is now up to the House, where a competing proposal would legalize sales for 2020 and set the tax rate at a combined 20 percent.

There are valid concerns about the impact of marijuana on highway safety, on youth exposure to the drug and the consequences of long-term exposure. But those concerns exist today, as they have for generations, and they will continue to exist even if the state does nothing.

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A state-regulated marijuana market at least offers some hope of limiting the black market and assuring product safety — a real concern in the age of the underground drug trade.

"If we're telling people that they can use a substance, then I think we have an ethical obligation to make sure that those substances are available and are safe," state Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, said in February when he signed onto the House bill proposed by Rep. Sam Young, D-Greensboro.

As for the revenue legal weed might provide: It would be foolish to expect the same windfall Colorado has enjoyed since it legalized marijuana in 2012. But even a small amount of revenue will be that much more than the zero dollars the state sees from black-market weed transactions.

It's a big step, and it ought to be taken carefully. But if Vermont waits for a perfect tax and regulate bill, it'll be waiting for a long time. Such an animal has never existed, and never will. It's time to stop making the perfect the enemy of the very good and establish a legal marijuana marketplace that makes sense for Vermont.

If it's going to happen anyway, why not make it happen now?


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