Courts & Corrections

House members propose bill to legalize marijuana

Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, reported the DLS bill on the House floor Tuesday. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, left, is a co-sponsor of the legislation. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
A House bill would legalize small amounts of marijuana and marijuana plants without creating a regulated market.

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would remove all civil and criminal penalties for adult possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana. It would also allow adults to grow a total of two mature marijuana plants and seven immature plants per household.

It does not create a regulatory structure for a legal marijuana market.

The proposal is similar to the model adopted in Washington, D.C., in February 2015, after voters approved legalization by ballot initiative the previous November.

The bill, H.170, is sponsored by the three members of the House Judiciary Committee — Reps. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, and Tom Burditt, R-West Rutland.

“It’s sort of like decrim 2.0,” she said, referring to the legislation that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2013, making it a civil offense.

The proposal would address what she said is a “lack of parity” in penalties in the current system between possession of a small amount of dried marijuana, a civil offense, versus a similar amount from a plant, which is a criminal offense.

Grad said the bill fits in with a broader effort the committee is making to evaluate how well the criminal justice system is functioning. The same group of lawmakers is proposing a bill that would reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of heroin, cocaine and other drugs.

The 17-page marijuana bill adjusts the civil and criminal penalties for possessing and cultivating pot above the amounts it would establish as legal. If an adult had more than 2 ounces of marijuana but less than 3 ounces, or slightly above the allowed number of plants, the person would face a civil fine of $200.

Possession of larger amounts would yield stiffer penalties. Those under age 21 would not be allowed to legally possess pot under the proposal.

When asked why she didn’t propose a regulatory framework for legalization, Grad said the licensing structure is outside the focus of the committee.

“Here in Judiciary, we look at crimes, we look at sentencing,” Grad said.

Conquest said that during the testimony on the marijuana legalization bill last year, he had the impression that many who supported legalization were skeptical of a regulated market.

“I got a real sense that there were lots of Vermonters who were uncomfortable with going with the full-scale … licensed retail model,” Conquest said.

Grad said criminalizing marijuana has not been effective at limiting its use. “If we want to reduce use, the best way is through education,” she said.

Burditt voted against the proposal to legalize last year. Though he personally favors legalization, his constituents oppose it, he said.

The makeup of the committee changed after the election, and he believes the measure could pass with or without his support. He decided to back the proposal because he wants to ensure he has a strong voice in shaping the legislation.

As to quantities that would be legal under the proposal, he would like them to be “as minimal as possible to take that baby step forward.”

“It would be real easy to run from this controversial subject, and kind of hide in the bushes and let happen what’s going to happen, but I don’t believe overall my constituents sent me up here to run and hide,” Burditt said.

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  • It’s a start….go ahead and approve this.

  • Michel Consejo

    “The proposal is similar to the model adopted in Washington, D.C., in February 2015, after voters approved legalization by ballot initiative the previous November.” for me that is the key phrase in the whole article. Why is it that the lawmakers in Vermont are afraid of putting this question on a Statewide Ballot?
    Oh yeah, i know because i heard that same answer during my 8 years as a State Representative, “this is not how we do it in Vermont, we have been elected to make decisions like this”.
    This is hogwash, and a reason that is only brought up when needed on a very hot issue, that the party in charge at the moment is not certain they have the majority support of our citizens.
    we are all grown up, and we can read between the lines, so please stop telling us what is good or bad for us, because we can’t understand. Put the question out there for all of us to decide and live with whatever decision comes out of it.

    • Barry Kade

      A binding referendum would take a Constitutional Amendment. It could be brought up at town meetings as advisory, to gauge public support.

  • Jamie Carter

    Do it or don’t do it already. The amount of time that has been devoted to this issue is astounding. Just legalize it already. Allowed adults to possess and grow a limited number of marijuana and institute a method to quantify and prosecute drugged drivers and then be done with it.

    As for heroin and cocaine, well it’s just pure insanity to reduce the penalities associated when we have an opiate crisis. Just idiocacy.

    • John Cisar

      “Drugs will ruin your life. So if we catch you using drugs we’re going to ruin your life with criminal fines, arrest, costly trial, conviction and incarceration.”

      Punishing addicts for their addiction was never sane. It’s cruel. It’s a misguided approach at problem solving that fails.

      • Jamie Carter

        “It’s a misguided approach at problem solving that fails.”

        It is currently the only effective way to sobriety for many. I agree, it fails at solving the problem but it provides a mechanism to end drug use in the short term until changes can be made to come up with a better way. Unfortunately our legislature has no clue on what a better way may look like so alas, it’s all we have right now.

        • “but it provides a mechanism to end drug use in the short term”. How is it working out so far? Have we ever been successful with criminalizing drugs? Check out Portugals success with decriminalizing all drugs.

        • John Cisar

          It’s not been effective by any means, and if it is the only “effective” way to sobriety for many, that’s an indictment against it requiring genuine reform by compassionate regulation of drug markets, not pretending vices are crimes and punishing addicts alongside rapists, fraudsters, killers and robbers which exacerbating the problem. Nobody wakes up and thinks to themselves, “I could really use an addiction in my life,” a problem rooted in the legal over-prescription of pharmaceutical medicine, not a lack of informants, fines, arrests, incarceration for self-abuse. Prohibition made street drugs more profitable which incentivizes their pushing at high markups by organized criminals, so the Drug War has been the cartel’s best friend.. Before the 1972 Controlled Substance Act (CSA) became law, cannabis, opium, cocaine, LSD, and alcohol were available. After the CSA, now there’s >20 different types. Laws and policy must be judged on facts and outcomes, not good intentions.

  • David White

    Only two plants? D.C. 6 plants and mass 12. Ca 20-25 , not even close

    • Matt Davis

      I know…totally absurd. How did they come up with this number and why?

    • Charlie Cusman

      Two plants legal is better than two plants illegal.
      Btw two plants that are as large as six smaller plants together, can produce the same yeild if grown right, just like tomatoes, peppers and other plants.

      • Matt Davis

        Sure but what if you want to grow some different varieties for their various medical or recreational benefits? Six at the least.

    • John Cisar

      Slow and steady is the “Vermont Way”. Sad how nobody is talking how the Vermont Legislature was quick to prohibit cannabis in the first place. Where was this “Vermont Way” approach in the 1970’s when first debating criminalizing cannabis? Missing

  • Ed Gomeau

    It is unbelievable that with the multiple critical issues facing Vermont (Education, Taxes, Economic downturns in businesses, young people leaving the state, crumbling Infrastructure, etc, etc, etc) that this group of Legislators has the audacity to take up precious legislative time with this proposal again.

    • Peter Everett

      It only goes to show how screwed up this state/country really is. Is there any hope for sanity by any leaders state/federal that real difficult issues will be resolved? Not that I can see. We’re too divided, as the result of officials whose ideology is greater than the oath they took.

    • Kevin Hunt

      It is unbelievable that with the multiple critical issues facing Vermont (Education, Taxes, Economic downturns in businesses, young people leaving the state, crumbling Infrastructure, etc, etc, etc) that the cops would waste their time enforcing a law banning weed that no one takes seriously.

    • Matt Davis

      “It is unbelievable that with the multiple critical issues facing Vermont (Education, Taxes, Economic downturns in businesses, young people leaving the state, crumbling Infrastructure, etc, etc, etc) that this group of Legislators has the audacity to take up precious legislative time with this proposal again.” Here’s the thing, marijuana legalization is related to all these issues. The reason young people are leaving the state is due to lack of economic development. The number of possible businesses that could rise from a regulated market is astounding. Look at CO. The taxation potential is huge, and the influx of revenue into the local economy would be dramatic. Right now, the many million dollar marijuana market goes into the black market. Imagine if it went into the pockets of business owners and taxpayers.

  • Steve Berry

    Legalize grow your own. Keep it limited and simple -as proposed. Move on.

  • Jeff Walenta

    This is a great first step but without a regulated legal market this will also make it a lot easier for the black market. These half measures are absurd and really don’t do much to address the issue effectively. Full legalization is the right way to go and hopefully soon the state legislature realizes this fact.

    • FYI – The black market already exists and operates effectively.

    • Mark Keefe

      Actually, without the legal ability to sell, it will not make it “a lot easier for the black market”. It will probably hurt the black market. People who previously bought from the black market will now grow their own and the demand for the black market sales should fall. Assuming that the overall market does not grow, introducing a new supply (growing at home) should reduce the demand on the black market.
      Conversely, legalizing the sale would make it a lot easier for the black market.

  • Mike Parent

    Colorado made $180 million on $1.2 Billion in sales in 2016. All ofvtgat would’ve went to the blackmarket

    We’d all be better off if the police would focus on crimes with actual victims.

    Does anyone honestly believe that wasting $20 Billion and arresting 3/4 Million Americans annually for choosing a substance proven to be safer than what the govt allows, is a sound policy?

  • Gary Murdock

    If it’s going to happen, this is the way to do it. No regulated market and the expansion of state government needed to manage it. No retail outlets and the resulting marijuana tourism. If someone wants it they can grow it. This would be a huge compromise by those against legalization, lets see if the regulated market supporters are as eager to compromise themselves.

    • Matt Davis

      They should at least allow 6 plants…but what will prevent me from growing a couple massive shrubs in my yard and then selling it all at a considerable profit? The point of a regulated market is to take the revenue out of the black market and into the pockets of business owners and taxpayers that will then spend that money in the local economy. Take a trip to CO, or OR, or WA. Go see it for yourself.

  • We are going to be one of the last states to legalize.

  • Justin Turco

    Tom Burditt’s constituents still oppose it. How does law enforcement feel about this? I want every indication to speak to our youth that drugs ruin lives. Legalizing pot does not send that message.

    • Neil Johnson

      There is a way for people to do what they want and still have it illegal, that would send the correct message. Right now the youth think marijuana is the cure for everything, I hear them talking about using CBD (?) while pregnant, and it’s ok because it doesn’t have the mental adjusting components of Marijuana. Drugs and pregnancy don’t work…..

    • Matt Davis

      Actually it does send that message. It allows parents to speak about it like anything else and to raise their children to make responsible decisions instead of relying on Big Brother to manage their lives. ALcohol is a far more dangerous drug than marijuana, so why is it legal?

  • Neil Johnson

    Vermonters want to smoke dope and protest Trump’s 90 day travel ban from 7 terrorist countries? Is this our recipe for success?

    Too bad, because we could be shooting for an Ethical Government, Better Schools, Homes and Healthcare for much less money. I guess it’s all about priorities and being popular, guess things don’t change much from high school.

    Meanwhile drug abuse is rampant and they want to legalize Heroin too. Recipe for success?

    • Adam Holt

      Who wants to legalize heroin?

    • Rick Cowan

      By your reasoning, we’d better ban that incredibly dangerous drug known as alcohol! Statistically, scientifically, socially FAR more damaging than cannabis.

    • Matt Davis

      Vermonters want freedom (at least some of us) and already smoke dope regardless of what Big Brother says about it. Dissent is patriotic…

  • Peter Straube

    As a practical matter, what happens at harvest time when your two mature plants become, say, 25-30 ounces of marijuana? How would that work if the maximum you’re allowed to possess is only two ounces?

    • Matt Davis

      Possess generally refers to what you are carrying around with you, not what you have stored in your pantry.

    • Rick Veitch

      According to the language of the bill cultivators can keep whatever they harvest as long as it is stored in a locked container.

    • you can keep everything from your plants at home, is how it works here in Denver. The 2 ounces would be what you could take with you on your backpacking trip.

  • Restrictions serve profit margins and not public safety. A broader epiphany about what the Hemp plant is won’t be stymied by piecemeal appeasement. The people want their resource back, in its entirety .

  • With all due respect to our house members. This is not even a half measure. Could you image buying a bottle of whisky without breaking the law, but if you bought a case of whisky, that would be a crime. If a person drinks a case of whisky in one night, that person would be dead (unless your Keith Richards). My friend drank to much one night and she died from alcohol poisoning at 17. RIP Rosa. I think we all can agree that alcohol is a much more dangerous drug than cannabis, but I could rent a truck tomorrow, drive it to any liquor store and fill it up with booze. Perfectly legal for anyone over 21. If I happen to have 10lbs or more of cannabis, I would be looking at a Felony charge with a penalty of 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The glaring hypocrisy is so bright, it’s blinding us. As far as I know not a human soul on this planet has ever overdosed and died from too much cannabis. Let’s be sensible and take a much bigger step forward.

  • Bill Murray

    Just pass this and move on to more pressing items like why we are struggling to fund an education system based on the needs of an agrarian system & family structure that is no longer relevant rather than figuring out how to educate kids for today and tomorrow. Possibly at a lower cost and more effectively.

  • Shane Patrick

    Posting your opinions is great. But please Write or call you house of repersentstive. Tell they how you feel. They work for us.