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Marijuana Legalization Bill Now Poised For Final Passage In Vermont Legislature

Ron Strider

Well-Known Member
The House Judiciary Committee gave its approval Wednesday morning to legislation that would legalize possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, setting the stage for a final vote on the House floor that could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Both the House and Senate have given approval this year to marijuana legalization bills, but they've been split until now over the most appropriate legal framework for relaxed cannabis laws.

House lawmakers favor a plan that would allow for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and cultivation of one or two mature marijuana plants. But they want to keep in place criminal penalties for larger-scale grow operations, and all marijuana sales.

Senate lawmakers, meanwhile, prefer a "tax and regulate" system that would establish licensed growers and create a retail market for sales.

Last Friday, Senate lawmakers sought to bridge that ideological divide with a hybrid measure that incorporates elements of both chambers' bills. It would adopt the House legalization proposal, beginning in July of 2018, when retail marijuana sales are slated to begin in Massachusetts (the House bill would originally have gone into effect this summer). But it would create a commission to study a tax and regulate framework in the meantime.

On Wednesday morning, Moretown Rep. Maxine Grad, the Democratic chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the compromise measure allows Vermont an opportunity to update its marijuana laws in ways that reflect the evolving legal landscape in New England. Maine and Massachusetts have legalized cannabis; Canada is poised to follow suit.

"With Massachusetts and Maine starting up in 2018, I think we need to continue this conversation," Grad says. "I think this [tax and regulate] commission can certainly help us do that, so I think it's a really good piece of legislation in the end."

The House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to recommend that the full House adopt the Senate compromise. A vote on the House floor could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon. That House vote would be the final action needed to pass the bill through the Legislature.

Assistant House Majority Leader Tristan Toleno says prospects for passage look good.

"I think people are settling into a comfort level with it," Toleno says.

Several House lawmakers who voted in favor of their chamber's version of legalization last month indicated last week that they would withdraw that support if the Senate's commission language was included. But Toleno says several have since moderated their stances.

Rutland Town Rep. Tom Burditt, a Republican, was among those who voted in favor the House bill but said they'd reject the Senate compromise. On Wednesday, he said he'd had a change of heart.

"I don't t think I've ever given a bill so much thought," Burditt said.

Burditt said he opposes tax and regulate. But he says he doesn't think creating a committee to study the idea will put Vermont any closer to passing a tax and regulate system than it is already. Burditt says for him, the legalization effort is about reducing people's "negative contact with law enforcement ... people getting harassed for no reason in my opinion." And he says the compromise bill achieves that goal.

If the House does give final approval to the legalization bill, it's still unclear what Republican Gov. Phil Scott will do if the legislation makes it to his desk.

Scott has said he's open to legalization. But he's said he wants a roadside test to determine marijuana impairment levels in place before Vermont moves forward with a law.

On Tuesday, Scott's director of communications, Rebecca Kelley, said the governor continues to have concerns about the impact of legalization on highway safety. But she says he has not closed the door on allowing whatever the Legislature sends him to pass into law.

"He would want to ensure that key public safety and public health questions were answered," Kelley said. "The bill has evolved over the last several weeks, so we would want to take a closer look at it to see whether or not it addresses those questions."

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News Moderator: Ron Strider 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Marijuana Legalization Bill Now Poised For Final Passage In Vermont Legislature | Vermont Public Radio
Author: Peter Hirschfeld
Contact: Contact VPR | Vermont Public Radio
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Website: Vermont Public Radio
 
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