Grow, Gift, Repair

A coalition of racial justice & grower advocates strongly oppose S.54

A coalition of nonprofit organizations and businesses from across Vermont have come together to oppose S.54, the cannabis legislation being considered by the Vermont legislature. The coalition—consisting of the Northeast Organic Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), Rural Vermont, the Vermont Growers Association (VGA), Justice for All, and Trace—calls on Vermont’s legislature to reject S.54 and commit to working with interested organizations, communities of color, and small farms and businesses across Vermont to develop legislation creating a tax and regulatory system in the state which sets a new standard for equity, reparations, inclusivity, and representation.

S.54 is a bill currently in the Vermont legislature that would set up a system for taxation, regulation, and retail sales of cannabis, following the state’s legalization of cannabis possession in 2018. Different versions of S.54 have passed both the House and Senate and the bill is now in the hands of a conference committee made up of three members each chamber. As lawmakers prepare to return for a short, budget-focused legislative session later this month, a small number of well-funded, highly vested interests are working to convince lawmakers that passing S.54 should be a priority.

“S.54 fails to adequately address racial equity in taxation and regulation of cannabis,” says Mark Hughes of Justice for All. “This bill fails to adequately address the magnitude of the damage or offer any real equitable opportunity for black folks to thrive in this industry. Taxation and regulation of cannabis must be directly linked to addressing the harm caused by the ‘War on Drugs’ and ensuring those impacted have opportunities to thrive.”

The devastation inflicted by the war on drugs, and the criminalization of cannabis, has disproportionately affected communities of color, including here in Vermont. Its impacts have shattered the lives of individuals, families, and communities for generations and across generations. These impacts are long-lasting, complex, and both explicit and implicit including mental and physical health, socio-economic opportunity and positionality, incarceration, police and criminal justice system violence, housing, education, and more.

“It is critical that we reject S.54 and not allow this global medical and economic crisis to serve as justification for supporting a fundamentally inadequate and inequitable bill,” says Graham Unangst-Rufenacht of Rural Vermont. “This bill will further amplify existing racial, economic, and social inequities in Vermont. We are being asked to support S.54 based on the potential revenue this new market could bring to Vermont. We must in turn ask: ‘who will have access to, and agency and privileges within, this market? Who will share in and benefit from the revenues? Who were the stakeholders in determining this?’”

The war on drugs is also to be acknowledged as only one of many tools of systemic racism employed amidst the broader history and impacts of institutional racism and xenophobia which has resulted in the dramatic disparities of business ownership, land access and ownership, access to capital, and more which are present in our communities.

The decriminalization of cannabis, and the establishment of legal markets in various states, has thus far resulted in few outcomes which begin to address and redress this history; rather resulting in the furthering of systemic white supremacy, racism, and economic inequity in the cannabis industry. The legal cannabis market is estimated to become a $40 billion industry by the end of 2020, yet black-owned cannabis businesses only represent 4.3% of total market share. S.54 is a continuation of that policy which we find unacceptable for Vermont.