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Vermont Judiciary Committee Revamps Marijuana Bill

Picture of marijuana plant

The Vermont House Judiciary Committee has voted 6 to 5 to gut Senate legislation that would legalize marijuana and instead presented a new bill for consideration.
At the end of March the Vermont Senate passed and moved to the House legislation that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 or older.  It would also tax and regulate cannabis similarly to alcohol and tobacco products.  The money would be directed to substance abuse education, treatment and prevention.

The House Judiciary Committee has been reviewing the bill and has decided to strip the provisions that expand decriminalization.  The committee also voted to create a commission to study legalization.

Marijuana Policy Project New England Political Director Matt Simon says the move is obviously not the regulated market system they had advocated for.  “There were several committee members who were strongly opposed to this issue before the testimony even began. And once the testimony was over they wanted to stop the debate and not advance anything no matter what it said.  But there were six members of the committee who were willing to move something forward.  The bill is going to move forward to another committee and we’ll see what happens in what’s left of this session.”

State Representative Chris Pearson, a Burlington Progressive, has in the past crafted legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.  While he was satisfied with the Senate version of the bill he says the House Judiciary Committee completely changed the concept of treating pot the same as alcohol and tobacco.   “It’s not at all as far as I think we need to go to deal with the reality of cannabis in Vermont. But we have a floor debate.  We would then send the bill back to the Senate.  So there’s quite a long way to go and frankly that they did anything gives us a chance at improving the work that they’ve done.”

Pearson adds that the committee could have killed the bill outright.    “It’s very clear that the House Judiciary Committee did not have the votes necessary to tax and regulate marijuana. There was the option of doing absolutely nothing. So the fact that we’re going to get to vote on this as a House is positive. Ultimately I wish the House Judiciary Committee had gone further.  But I really appreciate that they’re giving us the chance to have a full and important debate.”

The House committee’s version of the bill calls for a study commission to assess recreational marijuana legalization.  Such groups are often perceived as a method to delay or kill a bill.  But Matt Simon says because the committee included provisions that would authorize $350,000 for substance abuse education and better training for law enforcement,  he doesn’t see the study committee as a negative.   “Massachusetts is going to have a ballot initiative on the ballot in November that’s likely to pass.  And it would result in marijuana stores cropping up just south of the border.  So it’s likely that legalization is coming. So it’s more important than ever that we learn more, not only about marijuana, but about opiates and alcohol and tobacco and try to create a healthier society in part through smarter drug policies.  I would hate to see those conversations end just because of one committee’s decision.”

The House Committee on Education is scheduled to take testimony on the bill Tuesday afternoon.

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