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Vermont Senate Committee Holds Hearing On Legalizing Pot

Picture of marijuana plant
US Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

The Vermont Senate Committee on Government Operations took testimony today on possible legalization of recreational marijuana.
The committee has been holding hearings on the issues surrounding the possible legalization of pot since before the legislative session adjourned.  During the session the committee met every Friday to review operational issues surrounding legalization. Members decided to hold two meetings in November – one to take testimony, and the second primarily for committee discussion.   Committee chair Democratic Senator Jeanette White says she has a list of questions for this hearing.   “They were questions that have come up like should there be a limit on the number of retail establishments?  Should there be a limit on the number of cultivators? Can anybody get a retail license?  How are they controlled? What’s the cost of getting a retail license?  What are the penalties for violations? There’s a number of issues.”

Republican Senator Joe Benning is a Committee Member:  “As Vermont works towards legalizing we want to make sure that we do it in a Vermont way, if you will.  Keeping it small.  Keeping it local. Learning how to provide appropriate education and appropriate safeguards.  Making sure our law enforcement is equipped with the tools necessary. Giving people an idea that the product is a safe product.  Those are all the kinds of things that I’m looking for in trying to construct language for a bill.”

Not everyone is on-board with the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana.  Vermont League of Cities and Towns Director of Public Policy and Advocacy Karen Horn would prefer the state take a slow approach until the unintended consequences of legalization are known.  “We’re very concerned about the effects on cities, towns and villages, on local school populations, municipal police, first responders, municipal ordinances and budgets. All of which could be impacted by legalization of marijuana.”

Senator Benning notes that lawmakers recognize there is a $225 million underground economy for recreational marijuana in the state.   “That underground economy is jeopardizing the lives of people because they do not know what they are actually consuming.  They are bringing a criminal element into the state in order to conduct that economy.  I think there is a prevalent feeling amongst the committee members that we going to be at a point of legalization at some point in the future and when we get there we want to do it right.”

House member Progressive Chris Pearson has introduced a bill that would legalize and regulate pot. He says the Senate committee is setting the tone by shifting from information gathering to policymaking.   “There’s some 80 to 100 thousand Vermonters who are currently using marijuana every month.  Are we going to bring the discussion out of the shadows?  Are we going to recognize that this is common, fairly common, in Vermont and we should tax and regulate it the way we do alcohol and tobacco? I’m hopeful that we can get it all the way to the governor’s desk this session.”

Outgoing Governor Peter Shumlin has indicated in the past that he would sign a bill to tax and regulate marijuana.


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