Courts & Corrections

House to take up marijuana legalization for the first time Monday

The marijuana legalization issue will come to the House floor for the first time early next week.

On Friday House Speaker Shap Smith said that H.858, the miscellaneous criminal procedure bill that the Senate recently amended to include the full text of S.241, will be up for a vote Monday.

Smith says he wants representatives to weigh in on the Senate’s proposal to create a legalized and regulated market — and to consider a proposal from House Ways and Means that would legalize and license home grown pot.

The Speaker, however, stood by his previous assertion that neither proposal has enough the support to pass the House.

Smith said that it has been clear to House leadership that there is not consensus around legalization.

“And people have misinterpreted it as a desire to stall or kill the bill,” Smith said. “And I just don’t think that I want that misinterpretation out there anymore and I think many others don’t want that out there. So if people want a vote on it, then they’re going to get it.”

Pushing the issue on the floor, he said, could actually work against pro-legalization advocates. The reverberations of a negative vote in the House this year could dissuade legislators in the near future from taking the issue up again, according to Smith.

There are some discussions around alternative approaches to the marijuana legalization issue that could garner House support, Smith said. One option would be to put a non-binding referendum question on the ballot in November.

Non-binding referenda have been used in similar cases, according to Smith. Vermonters, for example, weighed in on the issue of temperance several times in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The purpose of a referendum would be to give lawmakers a sense of the level of support for legalized marijuana in their districts and statewide.

As the session winds down, Smith said that he does not see marijuana legalization as ranking among the most important initiatives of the year. He pointed to the budget bill, the education yield tax bill, the bill to reform suspended driver’s license policy and others as more significant.

Smith said that the pot issue will impact many Vermonters, but said the state has already decriminalized marijuana.

“Legalizing will take it the next step,” Smith said. “But if we don’t legalize it this year, I think it’ll have less impact than many of the other issues that we’re talking about.”

The Senate sent over the marijuana legislation Wednesday after Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, attached the full text of the marijuana legalization legislation to H.858 in hopes the House would take it up before the end of the session.

The Senate passed the pot bill back in February on a vote of 17 to 12. The bill would allow Vermonters to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use, and would create a system of licensed growers and retailers through the state.

The Senate’s marijuana legislation has reached a standstill in the House Appropriations Committee. Sears says he wanted to prod the House to take a floor vote.

“I’m hoping they will deal with the bill that we sent them this week and that they will have an up or down vote on the bill,” Sears said Friday. “There’s nothing else controversial in the bill, they can vote to concur or not concur and it will give us an idea of where they are at.”

Sears was working all channels to get a vote on S. 241, and there was even speculation that he might attach the pot bill to second piece of legislation on Friday in a blitz to goose the House. No such action occurred.

The bill Sears was thinking of amending with the pot legislation was H.571, which increases fees and penalties for DUI infractions while eliminating license points for other less serious driving penalties. The senate passed the bill unanimously out of the chamber Friday.

The bill broadly aims to make it easier to pay traffic tickets, in the hope that fewer residents will have their driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay fines.

“We are looking to reduce the number of suspensions, not increase them,” Sears said.

The bill would also reinstate driver’s licenses for those who lost licenses for failure to settle civil infractions, including underage tobacco use, alcohol and marijuana violations.

The mention of marijuana in the bill gave Sears an opening to assert that the Senate legalization provisions were germane.

On Friday, Sears promised that no matter what action the House took on Monday, he would not send S. 241 over to the chamber again. He added, though, that “some other senator might do it.”

Sen. David Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden, who is an ardent supporter of legalization, said there was no need to send S.241 over to the House again as long as the chamber held a vote.

“A vote on the floor of the House will give Vermonters an understanding of where each of their legislators sit, both in the Senate and the House,” Zuckerman said. “And I think that’s important because a majority of Vermonters support changing our cannabis laws.”

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • James Mason

    A non-binding referendum is just another delay tactic in the House by leadership to avoid taking a vote on this measure.

    Speaking of delay tactics, did any representatives read the Rand study that they themselves commissioned?

    • michael olcott

      it certainly doesnt seem that way since they needed repeated testimony from all the anti legalization people and groups for every diff. committee it had/has to pass through.

    • Peter Everett

      Why doesn’t Vermont allow binding referendums? I’m originally from MA, binding referendums are allowed and work fairly well. At least the voters gets some say in government, unlike Vermont, where politicians follow the lead of Lobbyists and other special interests. Couldn’t we try to get a Constitutional Amendment? After all, aren’t voters somewhat intelligent that they could make a proper decision, one way or another?

  • John Barnes

    15 years ago the legislature was concerned about the effects of tobacco on our youth and adults. They sued big tobacco and got a big settlement in a money grab. Now they want to legalize pot. What about our youth and the effect on their young lungs? The baby boomers don’t give a crap.

    • Neil Johnson

      The lobbyists don’t care, and they are the ones running this state.

    • michael olcott

      the proposal doesnt allow for underage use,not even a nice try there. stop using our kids a s a human shield to protect you from…what exactly is it about adult use of cannabis that frightens you people so much. the free thinking outside the box? dont like it then dont consume it but the fear mongering about our kids and dui has got to stop, if it was a problem we would already know about it seeing how 1/5th of our population has admitted using it( and likely double that number but they wont admitt it due to the reefer madness stigma you people have attached to it) sorry for the rant but gd its not that complicated,lol

  • Jason Wells

    Please all supporters of legalization now is the time to call and email your house Reps and express your support. Which version you support is entirely your choice however I would suggest supporting the Ways and Means version that allows for two plants of homegrown as it prevents the creation of a large monopoly and allows us to have a few plants for ourselves. While 2 plants may seem like a small amount it leaves room for future amendments without the influence of the big pot lobby and also will after implementation show the leg. that the sky has not fallen. Lets also not forget that the larger bill would allow for more enforcement and creates a whole new bureaucracy in govt. to handle it. I fully understand that some folks might not have the capability to grow your own and we should move to a coop type system to be able to provide for those folks but if the larger bill gets passed only a very select few who can afford 20-30 thousand dollar licenses will be involved that’s hardly the Vermont way please resit the temptation let’s do this the right way that includes all growers small and large. Call your Reps. email them whatever it takes!

  • Mary Daly

    Let’s hope that Shap Smith is right and there are not enough votes in the House to pass this bill. Then maybe the legislature will get on with issues that matter. They and the Senate have wasted way to much time and resources on this issue this session. They have certainly ignored the issue of strengthening the economy. I know there have been many proposed bills and amendments that have never seen the light of day that would have helped the economy. It seems the Democratic leaders did not want to see anything constructive accomplished this biennium and blocked the Republican initiatives at every turn. It is definitely time for a change in Montpelier.

    • Brian Kelly

      Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

      Plain and simple!
      Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

      Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny, crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

      The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

      If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more causes more detriment to our society than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

      Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more detriment to our society than all other drugs, COMBINED?

      Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier lives, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

      • Neil Johnson

        People might get much further in a good discussion if they didn’t make false statements. Marijuana is a drug, otherwise you’d smoke beech leaves and be just as happy. I suspect if you smoked during pregnancy you’d be rather disappointed with the results, just like or more than tobacco or alcohol. So, please let’s give up the harmless clause. We also know it’s really not good for developing minds…so there is some legitimate concern. And yes the other drugs to serious damage, what’s your point? It’s better to have more things that cause you harm?

    • michael olcott

      Right because a substance that is used by one out of every 5 people is just a fringe issue and not deserving of any attention. The time wasted is from the repeated testimony that every committee has had to hear from the same people over an over. ( are there not records kept of this that they could review?) which boils down to the reefer madness trifecta, Kids,dui,lazy & stupid/unemployable people( re testing for metabolites hours,days, or weeks after the high has worn off.) You speak of the economy?, well allow the revenue to go to the general fund instead of being passed out as little better than bribes to the prohibition crowd and if the education and enforcement is needed the funds will be there.

  • Neil Johnson

    Nepotism= Good Ole Boy network in Vermont. In Vermont, lobbyists are often very good friends with our representatives. This bill is a perfect example of nepotism and use of smoke and mirrors.

    What this bill really does, is enrich a very few people to set up legal drug cartels within the state, making Vermont have control of the east coast. It does not satisfy those concerned about drug use, it does not satisfy those who want to smoke, it does satisfy, those lobbyist who helped write, promoted and will become stinking rich from this bill. This bills satisfies the lobbyists very, very well. 425 lobbyists 30 senators, Vermont got a D- in Ethics. We need change. [email protected]

  • Francis Janik

    Home Grow is the only way to go. We do not need a small number of licenses given to a select few. No Monopoly! Kill this Senate bill. Vote in Home Grow and work from there. Home Grow or No Go!

    • Jason Wells

      I like the slogan “Home Grow or No Go!” good stuff!

      • Rick Veitch

        Or: “Home Grown–We Own it!”

    • robert bristow-johnson

      i really disagree. as much as i hate the commercial “Big-Weed” limitation in the bill, it’s better to get it legalized somehow rather than leaving it criminalized for everyone. once it’s legal for adults to posses, there will be enough home growers doing it outside the law that the law will experience some evolution. growing weed commercially will become like microbrewery.

      first, get weed decriminalized for small amounts and get the enforcement priority eliminated. observe that civilization does not come to an end.

      second, get medical weed legalized and regulated. observe that civilization does not come to an end.

      third, get recreational-use weed legalized, regulated, and taxed. even with a dumb “Big Weed” limitation. observe that civilization does not come to an end.

      lastly, legalize home grow on private property. observe that civilization does not come to an end.

  • Stephen Trahan

    The whole point here is to get each and every legislator’s official position, by vote, before the 2016 election. Bring on the vote!

  • Rick Cowan

    Maine, DC, Colorado, Alaska, Washington legislatures trust their citizens enough to allow cultivation. Are we Vermonters somehow less responsible than citizens of those states? Shap has done a brilliant job of delaying legalization despite the majority of Vermonters being in favor and the Rand report’s conclusions re likely benefits. Sad to see how unresponsive our legislators have become. Hope there’s a vote so we can see exactly where each lawmaker stands on this issue.

    • Theodore A Hoppe

      Spot on, well stated!

    • Neil Johnson

      They are very responsive to lobbyists. They are the ones who helped them draft a bill. You won’t hear them speak up on any forums, it’s better to work behind closed doors.

  • Patrice Lopatin

    It is time to let people be free to grow what they want in their gardens; especially for medicinal purposes! We want the option to have safer alternatives to toxic pharmaceuticals to maintain health that are affordable. Did one ever think that letting people grow their own could have an impact on the overly burdened health system here?
    No matter what, making a plant that has been used for all but small stretch of time in human history illegal is as ridiculous as it is suspicious.