Supporters of a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana held a press conference in the Vermont Statehouse this afternoon as the bill awaits debate in the state Senate.
Last Friday, after about five hours of debate, the Vermont House passed H.511, a bill that addresses Republican Governor Phil Scott’s concerns over the legalization of small amounts of marijuana. On Tuesday morning the Senate postponed acting on the governor’s veto from last session of a bill to legalize marijuana. A few hours later Vermont Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, a Progressive, clarified the two bills. “S.22 is the bill that the governor vetoed last spring and by constitution we have to vote whether or not to override that veto. However the bill that has language that the governor is indicated he would sign and that has just passed the House and will hopefully pass the Senate tomorrow which is H.511 will effectively do most of what's in S.22 and really you only pass one law not two doing the same thing. So we are holding off on S.22 in the Senate until H.511 goes through the whole process and gets the governor's signature to then determine whether or not we actually have to use S.22 to perform cannabis reform in Vermont.”
Supporters of the marijuana legalization bill had gathered in the Cedar Creek Room of the Statehouse earlier. Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform Executive Director Tom Dalton says criminalization of marijuana has and continues to hurt a number of people. “Marijuana criminalization has really negative impacts on young people and on people of color. For example people of color in Vermont are almost four and a half times more likely to be arrested for marijuana charges than white people. And so there's a racial disparity there that is a real problem. And in Vermont one out of fourteen men of color are incarcerated which is a ratio that is higher than in any other state. Those issues are really important beyond just the issues that relate to whether somebody can use marijuana recreationally.”
ACLU of Vermont Policy Director Chloe White also sees legalization as a social justice issue. “Ending prohibition will go a long way to ending you know a futile war on drugs that has really done nothing.”
But there are a number of groups opposed to the measure including the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police. Colchester Chief Jennifer Morrison, president of the organization, sees a number of problems with the bill and its progress toward passage. “We are very disappointed. There just seems to be this absolute rush to pass legislation without waiting to see the work of the marijuana commission. There are a variety of things that we have known are issues and absolutely zero effort has been put into advancing these issues and putting into place regulations and safeguards prior to letting the horse out of the barn. We are doing this completely backwards.”
Lieutenant Governor Zuckerman says Vermont Senate will convene at 1 p.m. Wednesday to consider the marijuana bill.