After Health Dept. Cancellation, THC Limit in Cannabis Concentrates Sparks Legislative Debate

A mature cannabis plant nears harvest in Jericho on Monday, October 11, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VT Digger

Senate lawmakers bristled on Friday over a last-minute change to a key cannabis bill in a House vote on Thursday — and speculated why the Vermont Department of Health abruptly reversed its recommendation to lawmakers on the measure last week.

House lawmakers Thursday imposed a 60% cap on the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in solid cannabis concentrates for sale at retail establishments when they open in October.

The change to H.548, one of four bills establishing the legal recreational marketplace, was proposed in an amendment proposed by Rep. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, and approved by voice vote.

On Friday, senators expressed frustration with the decision.

“They held this fucking thing for over a week and a half and then came up with this,” Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Justice Committee, said during a committee hearing on Friday. . “There is not much time to convene a conference committee. I’m really frustrated with Rep. Gannon’s proposal to the House.

Yet on Friday, senators presented the bill to a conference committee with the House to reconcile their differences over the THC limit.

The change follows a sudden reversal of stance by the Vermont Department of Health late last week.

The department supported eliminating a cap on levels of more than 60% THC in solid cannabis concentrates, according to an April 28 message to the chairman of the House Committee on Human Services, Rep. Ann Pugh, D. -South Burlington, by David Englander, the department’s senior policy and legal adviser.

It would be more dangerous for people to buy unregulated versions of these products, Englander said, because putting a cap would force manufacturers to use additives that dilute the product by less than 60%.

“You may recall that there have been recent illnesses and deaths that seemed to be associated with the ingestion of such additives,” he said.

Then, a day later, Englander sent another message to Pugh, reversing the Department of Health’s position. In the second message, he said that after further consideration, the ministry did not agree with lifting the THC limit.

“The risks to users of high levels of THC are significant and we should not risk contributing to the known risks to the physical and mental health of consumers,” Englander said in his second email. “My communication with you yesterday was based on incomplete information. All errors are mine and please accept my apologies to you and the committee.

Englander was unavailable for an interview on Friday, according to Ben Truman, a Department of Health spokesman, and lawmakers said it was unclear why the Department of Health overruled its recommendations.

“It was pretty shocking,” said Rep. Taylor Small, D-Winooski, who serves on the House Social Services Committee. “We have received no further comments from the ministry.”

“It’s very disturbing,” said Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, chair of the House Committee on Government Operations, of the about-face. “But unfortunately I have no idea why this happened.”

At Friday’s hearing, James Pepper, chairman of the Cannabis Control Board – which had recommended lifting the cap on THC in solid cannabis concentrates – called for leaving it “a gift to the illicit market”.

“It gives the illicit market a monopoly to meet the demand for these products,” Pepper told the committee.

“Somehow a group that opposed legalization from the start took over,” Sears said. “If we were to accept this, I would like to see a Cannabis Control Commission investigation into the impact on the black market and out-of-state sales, as Massachusetts does not have this cap.”

Sears pointed out that Bennington County borders both New York and Massachusetts, which have no caps on THC levels in solid cannabis products.

“So we continue to urge people out of state,” Sears said, calling the House proposal a “dumb move.”

Pepper said Vermont is the only state outside of Connecticut that caps THC levels in solid cannabis products.

“There is a very broad consensus among regulators that caps are a bad idea,” Pepper told VTDigger on Friday. “A black market will fill this gap. They will do this using very dangerous products.

Sarah Mearhoff contributed reporting.

Want to stay up to date with the latest business news? Sign up here to receive a weekly email on all of VTDigger’s reports on local businesses and economic trends. And check out our new Businesses section here.