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Douglas Says He's Open to Disscussing Pot Decriminalization

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Montpelier, VT -- Gov. Jim Douglas said Wednesday that he was open to having a conversation about decriminalization of marijuana, but stopped short of saying he would support it.

"I've said all along it's certainly reasonable to talk about appropriate penalties for various criminal statutes," the governor said at a news conference as he prepared for Tuesday's opening of the 2008 legislative session.

Asked later if he might veto such a bill, Douglas said, "I haven't said one way or the other. What I've said is I'm happy to enter into that conversation."

The Republican governor's comments came a day after the top Democrat in the Vermont Senate, President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, said he would favor sending people caught with small amounts of marijuana to a court diversion program rather than prosecuting them.

Shortly after Douglas spoke, House Speaker Gaye Symington said she had not developed a position on decriminalizing pot but the House would consider such a measure if the Senate passed it.

Douglas said his main focus on the drug issue is stepping up enforcement against trafficking in harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine and cracking down on abuse of prescription drugs.

"The most important thing to me is to continue our aggressive effort to combat dangerous drugs, to ensure that those who traffic in drugs, those who seek to poison our children, are dealt with harshly and severely," he said.

Discussion about the state's marijuana laws follows a months-long drama in which Douglas criticized Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand for sending to court diversion the case of a 61-year-old lawyer caught with 24 marijuana plants.

Douglas, who supported a decriminalization bill as a legislator in the 1970s, first called, and later rescinded the call, for police agencies in Windsor County to bring cases involving possession of larger amounts of marijuana to the Attorney General's Office or federal authorities for prosecution.

Douglas said marijuana today tends to be more potent than that available in the 1970s. "It's not your father's marijuana." And he said of the illicit plant in general, "I think it's certainly important to discourage its consumption."

Douglas and Symington met Thursday with reporters to describe their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

One area of disagreement was clear: Symington said she took a very dim view of something Douglas has said he's interested in pursuing: leasing the state lottery to a private company for a one-time payment in the neighborhood of $50 million.

It's expected the result would be more aggressive marketing of various lottery games, something Symington said she strongly opposes. She argued that state lotteries target mainly low-income people with a pitch of "Try your luck -- you might make it big," and amounted to a regressive tax.

"I'm not in favor of increasing reliance on gambling to finance state government," the Jericho Democrat said.

The governor and speaker said they would support legislation to promote energy efficiency in heating fuels. It was clear there had been no resolution of how to pay for the program -- a key reason Douglas vetoed similar legislation last year.

The governor and speaker also said they hoped to continue working on health care reform, with an eye to relieving the burdens of high copays and deductibles for Vermonters with insurance.


Source: Burlington Free Pree (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Burlington Free Press
Contact: letters@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com
Website: BurlingtonFreePress.com | Vermont News, sports, weather, arts and entertainment
 
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