A simpler, stripped down marijuana legalization bill is being reviewed by the Vermont House Judiciary Committee after legislation that would have created a structure similar to Colorado's legal marijuana program failed during the last legislative session.
Vermont House Bill 170 – would legalize two ounces or less of marijuana and cultivation of two mature marijuana plants and seven immature marijuana plants for a person who is 21 years of age or older. It also adjusts civil and criminal penalties for possession and cultivation of marijuana, establishes penalties for furnishing marijuana to those under 21 years of age, and makes it a crime to extract chemicals from marijuana.
Marijuana Policy Project New England Political Director Matt Simon notes the bill is designed to be simpler than the one defeated in the previous legislative session that ended in May 2016. “The idea was just this should be much simpler from many of the House of Representatives’ perspectives. And as a result we’re seeing the House Judiciary Committee ah they felt they were equipped to deal with criminal justice reform but did not want to deal with the complexities of taxing and regulating marijuana. So they’ve put forward a much simpler bill to just eliminate penalties for personal possession and limited cultivation and leave other questions to other committees.”
The Central Vermont New Directions Coalition is a substance abuse coalition. Prevention specialist Ginny Burley reiterates what she told the committee: there are a number of flaws in the bill. She says any bill legalizing marijuana must include a focus on education and prevention. Burley says this simplified version fails to do that. “When I testified I used Vermont’s tobacco prevention as a model because unless you put sufficient resources into a prevention program it’s not going to be effective. With tobacco as the model there is a comprehensive sort of cradle to grave program of educating the people and it’s relentless. And that’s what it takes to actually make a dent. And if we don’t put some kind of similar program in place for marijuana it’s unlikely that youth use is going to be inhibited.”
The simplified marijuana legalization bill does not include public safety measures related to legalization. Governor Phil Scott’s spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley says the Republican is adamant that any legalization bill must address public safety concerns. “He has made it clear that any bill regarding legalization for marijuana would really need to address some core law enforcement concerns, public safety concerns including ensuring that we could test for impairment on our roadways. So he will take a look at any bill that comes across his desk but he would need it to answer some of those questions as well as some public health ramifications, any additional funding we might need to put into smoking cessation programs for example. So there are questions to be answered which is a big part of the reason why he said that legalization is not necessarily never but it’s not until we can answer these core questions.”
Simon says there are other bills addressing public safety issues from a range of illicit drugs and this bill therefore does not need such redundancy. “I don’t think it should be part of the bill. There are two bills in the House Transportation Committee that would deal with driving while impaired issues. And I think those issues should be considered on their own merits. Legalization has not resulted in dramatically increased rates of use and driving while impaired is already an issue with alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and many illicit substances. So these are important issues regardless of whether Vermont eliminates its civil penalty for possession or not and they should be I think considered by the appropriate committees.”
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take more testimony on the bill Thursday.