Courts & Corrections

House sends marijuana legalization bill for further review

Laura Sibilia
Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, offered the motion to send the bill to committee. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
The House put off a vote on a controversial marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, sending the legislation to another committee.

The bill, H.170, which would legalize adult possession of limited amounts of marijuana, was scheduled for a vote on the House floor Tuesday. Many expected the vote to be a close one.

Amid an apparent lack of sufficient support on the floor, the House sent the bill to the Human Services Committee. Whether the bill will come back out of committee this year is unclear.

Uncertainty about support for the bill stalled the measure in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. But the panel got the go-ahead from leadership last week and passed the bill out on a vote of 8 to 3.

The legislation was a pared-down version of a legalization bill that passed the Senate last year. The current bill does not include a proposal for a taxed, regulated system, as has been implemented in Colorado and other states; instead, it resembles a model in place in Washington, D.C.

The proposal would simply lift all civil and criminal penalties for adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana or two mature plants. Possession of up to 2 ounces or three plants would garner civil penalties, while criminal penalties would apply for greater amounts.

The bill was expected to come up late in the day after the House moved through a lengthy agenda of other work. Late in the afternoon, when H.170 was the only bill left on the calendar, the House broke for a surprise caucus.

House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski
In a meeting room downstairs, Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, told the Democratic Caucus that leadership decided to back a motion to send the bill to the House Human Services Committee for further review.

“We want to do this right, and so that’s what we’re going to do,” Krowinski said to other lawmakers.

Krowinski said she does not believe sending the legislation to committee means it is dead.

“Killing it would be having it die on the floor,” Krowinski said. “What this is is keeping the conversation going about whether legalizing marijuana is where the majority of the support is in the body.”

House leadership had been tallying support for the legislation, which was expected to be tight. Some lawmakers said a few key absences derailed the expected vote.

After Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, reported the bill on the floor, Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, stood and moved that the bill be sent to the Human Services Committee for further review of education and prevention measures targeting youth. The House approved the motion on a voice vote, with some opposition.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, an opponent of the bill, was expected to offer three amendments on the floor. All three would have delayed implementation of legalization so that it would be triggered by other events.

One amendment would have required more efforts to prevent youth marijuana use. Another would have required the availability of a roadside sobriety test, akin to those used for alcohol. The third would have tied legalization to changes in the federal drug classification of marijuana.

Cynthia Browning
Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington. File photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger
After the House sent the bill to committee, Browning was in the hallway celebrating the move as a victory.

“These are the same points I brought up last year,” Browning said. “What did they think, I was going to go away?”

She welcomed scrutiny of youth marijuana use prevention efforts by House Human Services, but she also said she believes the proposal needs to be examined by the Transportation Committee.

Browning said she felt the House had not sufficiently vetted the proposal.

“I think it’s a failure of due diligence, and I think by sending it to committee they’re admitting it,” Browning said.

House Judiciary Chair Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, said the move keeps the conversation going. She said she is encouraged by prevention work the Department of Health has started in the last year and hopes others will be as well.

She is optimistic the bill will continue to move this year.

Unlike states where legalization was implemented by ballot measure, Vermont can take the time to make sure the state does what’s needed to “get it right,” she said.

“We’re lucky that we can take a deliberative approach and answer those questions,” Grad said.

Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chair of the Human Services Committee, said people are concerned about prevention. Asked her plans for the future of the bill shortly after the announcement from Democratic leadership, Pugh replied that the development was fresh.

“This is fast-breaking news,” she said. “I will do what needs to be done.”

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was a key supporter of the push to legalize last year. He had given the House Judiciary Committee a deadline extension to get the bill out last week.

If it goes back to committee, he said, “it’s probably dead for this year.”

“But you never say never in this body,” he said. “There’s always an opportunity” to attach the language to other legislation that advances.

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  • Edward Letourneau

    This needs at least two provisions added to it; 1. if it passes, a provision should require periodic checking of schools with drug sniffing dogs. (Its all to protect the kids), and 2. there should be a provision that if you lose a job or can’t get a job because of drug use (legal or not) you cannot get any form of welfare.

    • Herb McSpellets

      What a misinformative pretense about the Cannabis plant. Drug sniffing dogs? Kids need to be educated and not misinformed.

    • Jake Maddocks

      I propose the same thing should be done with alcohol.

      • James Rude

        Here’s the difference with Alcohol. There is a known level of alcohol in the blood which causes impairment when driving, operating machinery, etc. Not sure if this has been established for THC. Are there standardized tests to measure safe vs unsafe levels of THC in the blood or urine? You can gauge the amount of alcohol you will consume by the amount or percentage contained in on the bottles of various types of drinks….beer, wine, spirits, etc. Again, not sure if this can be said for determining psychotropic effects of cannabis given that batches differ based upon when, how and where they are grown.

        • Steve Levy

          “There is a known level of alcohol in the blood which causes impairment when driving, operating machinery, etc. ” Untrue. There is a level of blood alcohol which has been legislated to be a criminal offense when driving, etc., but the level of alcohol which causes impairment varies, person to person, and depends on set and setting. Even if there were a convenient test for blood level THC and its metabolites, there would still be wide latitude among individuals with reference to an impaired level. What we really need is a driving test that distinguishes impairment, whether it is drug related, age related, sleep deprivation related, alcohol related, etc that does not rely on the amount of any substance in a person’s body. How about a video game in each police officer’s cruiser that measures driving skill?

          • Matthew Davis

            There is already such a test. It is called walking a straight line and saying the alphabet backwards….

        • Jerry Kilcourse

          Most drinkers know when they are impaired or not. They don’t need to know the percentage of alcohol listed on a bottle. (When was the last time someone checked the percentage of alcohol in their drinks at a bar or restaurant?.)That’s what is meant by drinking responsibly which most people do. Some don’t, but we don’t prohibit alcohol for everyone.
          The same is true with marijuana use. It’s hard to believe most of our legislators don’t know this and haven’t had any experience with marijuana use.

    • Mike Ferland

      Ed, you realize that some of us responsible cannabis users are community leaders, mentor youth, sit on advisory committees for tech centers and help keep our community safe? I do! I have put away a pervert for 10 years while I was working at a PC repair shop in winooski 10 years back. I use cannabis to help with pain – I have a really bad knee and back, I was beaten up really bad by bullies growing up and I would be walking with a cane without pot – or worse, a junkie taking opiates. I used cannabis during the physical withdrawal effects of alcohol abuse to help me get off the sauce – and I have been almost 3 years off the sauce. Do you understand the kind of stigma I have to put up with because a plant I responsibly use in the comfort of my own home? You don’t. You’d rather get all huffy puffy on here and want to further the cycle of making responsible adults like myself ostracized from society because instead of drinking beer to cope with day-to-day stress I smoke. Instead of using opiates for a busted knee – I use cannabis. I just don’t understand how you can be so blind when people like myself are contributing to society, fostering youth vocational development and essentially bending over backwards to help you when your “MY AOL DON’T OPEN ANYMORE PLZ HALP!” crap starts up. Seriously Ed, I would love to enlighten you about this stuff and show you that I am not of this “420 Bob Marley Culture” BS, I am a regular tax paying conservative Vermonter, father, and IT professional – stop treating me like I am some junkie!

      • Neil Johnson

        This is where we need to work together. It’s clearly a strong, effective, powerful drug as evidenced by your testimony. I’ve spoken to a friend of mine for using to help with similar problems. He doesn’t want opiates, his grandson’s life is in constant turmoil because of opiate addictions.

        Both sides would do well to listen to each other, as they both present good and reasonable points. Drugs are in our schools and they shouldn’t be, not an unreasonable request. The two easiest places to find drugs in Vermont is our Jail system and Schools.

        Perhaps it should be considered like a speeding ticket. It’s not legal to do 81 on the highway and it’s also not recommended. It sends the right message, it lets people know the youth in particular that at the very least it’s not recommended. Medicinally of course it would be legal and in instances preferred, because as so many have testified, it does have a powerful effect upon the body.

        If someone ostracized my for doing 81 mph on I89… would I and should I be offended? This is no different.

        • Michael Olcott

          well not my first choice of analogy but it should work. the problem is that under current law its a finable offense to have the car that goes 81 mph,also grounds to bar you from gaining lawful employment ( unless you could prove that you hadnt driven it in a while),and if some had their way would deprive you of social services that we give to even undocumented immigrants. furthermore even if you had enough of your own property to drive that speed risking only your own life and property you are still forbidden to do so. oh and you cant write the laws that make this absurd situation better because well democratic republic and all that,THW States Rights. smh see how ridiculous this all seems.
          the truth is that Cannabis and its twin Hemp are such social and economic disruptors that that kind of change terrifies those whose thinking is entrenched into the old ways of an age that is never coming back. JMO.

        • Matthew Davis

          “The two easiest places to find drugs in Vermont is our Jail system and Schools.” Who goes to schools to acquire cannabis?

          • Neil Johnson

            High School and College Kids get it at school all the time. They haven’t allowed them to open shops for the general public yet.

    • Michael Olcott

      a private sector Employer is the one who makes a decision to hire someone though not the person applying. i guess i could go along with it as long as there was random drug testing across all private sector employment. thats a pretty heavy cost just the testing alone. furthermore im more than a little sure that many otherwise hardworking law abiding people would be hurt by this and finding themselves in need of the very programs you would like to deny them of in their hour of need.after all the RAND report DID say that 1/5 of Vermonters consume cannabis,Can we afford to remove that many from the labor force over this?

      • Mike Ferland

        In the IT sector – the majority of my fellows do smoke or are alcoholics. Typically when trying to get a job at an MSP they will require drug testing and anything will disqualify you from employment. A lot of times this is non-negotiable. I am lucky that with my current employer they were understanding – especially because I built an excellent rep with them while I was working for the MSP that they used to use before they went under. They also saw me go through the stages of my alcoholism recovery. When i told them what happened to me during the interview process – they were shocked that I actually came to work through all of that. I told them I had strong medicine on my side.

  • Jason Brisson

    Blew it. Again.

  • James Leopold

    The fact is that the cat has been out of the bag for a very long, long time. You can go just about any secondary school (public or private) in Vermont and easily get marijuana.

    It is past time to decriminalize pot, and stop wasting law enforcement and judicial assets to try to put the cat back in the bag.

    • Glenn Thompson

      “You can go just about any secondary school (public or private) in Vermont and easily get marijuana.”

      Can’t the same be said of “Opiates”? Using your logic perhaps we should decriminalize the likes of Heroin and Synthetic Opiates since they are so readily available?

      • Luke Lamone

        A more apt comparison would be whiskey to heroin although whiskey kills thousands more each year then even heroin.

        • Glenn Thompson

          Is that statement suppose to be a……JOKE? Saying a shot of whiskey or a shot of liquor put into a mixed drink is more dangerous than one sticking a needle filled with heroin into one’s veins is fooling no one but themselves.

      • Brian Kelly

        Let’s not intentionally try to alarm and worry the public about legalizing “all drugs” right now.

        That concept is often used as a scare-tactic by prohibitionists in an attempt to frighten the public away from marijuana legalization by clumping marijuana legalization in with the legalization of other drugs which are far more scary and dangerous than relatively benign,often healing marijuana.

        Marijuana is just about the safest drug out there. Legal or not, and much less dangerous than perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised, often glorified alcohol consumption.

        Which makes marijuana legalization unique, and certainly a much different, and far more urgent matter than the legalization of “all drugs” right now.

        Let’s not lose focus of the real issue at hand here. Marijuana, the only currently illegal recreational drug that is much safer than perfectly legal alcohol.

        Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

  • Luke Lamone

    The legislature is behaving like the uptight, handwringing town from ‘The Music Man’, i.e. “Ya got trouble right here in River City”. When will the legislature AND the Gov. get real? Two of our neighboring states have legalized sale coming next year. VT has one of the nation’s highest per capita rates of cannabis use. Teens have almost unlimited access through their own black market high school dealers. Once MA and ME begin their legalized sales we will literally see thousands of Vermonters regularly driving across borders to obtain their regular supply of cannabis with the result that MA and ME get the tax revenue while VT gets (according to our perpetually handwringing Gov.) the ‘horrors’ of ‘stoned driving’. Oh, I forgot, the Gov. will support legalization ‘some day’ after some imaginary, magical roadside test hits the market.

    If this wasn’t such a serious issue, the Vermont Legislature and Gov. would be stars in their own farcical Broadway play.

    • Rick Cowan

      Well said, Luke. Not sure how our supposedly progressive state government keeps dithering on this issue. The legislature has again missed an opportunity that many other states and countries have acted on. By the way, Time magazine reports that Canada is set to legalize cannabis possession on July 1, 2018. So, it will be legal on our northern and southern borders as well as in Maine, DC, Alaska, Washington State, etc. etc. I wonder how long our lawmakers will continue to ignore the fact that the majority of Vermonters support legalization…

  • Peter Straube

    I’m dismayed at the false connection that opponents of cannabis bills continue to make between legalizing personal use by adults and predicted negative impacts on the well-being of kids and travelers on our roads. If increased youth education efforts and a reliable roadside sobriety test are important concerns (and of course they are), those initiatives should be enacted right now, since surveys show that over 100,000 Vermonters are already partaking of marijuana. Eight states and the District of Columbia have already tested the assumption that the rate of consumption will increase significantly if weed is legalized, and the consistent answer has been that it does not. We should be making policy based on facts, not on unfounded predictions.

  • Alyce Stein

    Youth education and a reliable roadside sobriety test are valid concerns, but legislators have had a full year to act on these anxieties and apprehensions.

    Cynthia Browning, for example, seems far more concerned with getting a second shot at restating “the points she made last year” than envisioning new solutions. She may feel like “celebrating in the hallway,” but some of us wish she had gone away to make room for critical thinkers who can focus and take action at the same time.

  • Alyce Stein

    Youth education and a reliable roadside sobriety test are valid concerns, but legislators have had a full year to act on their anxieties and apprehensions.

    Cynthia Browning, for example, seems far more concerned with getting a second shot at restating “the points she made last year” than envisioning new solutions. She may feel like “celebrating in the hallway,” but some of us wish she had gone away to make room for critical thinkers who can focus and take action at the same time.

  • Jason Wells

    Well with the lack of postings on this compared to last year I feel I am not alone in pretty much loosing all faith with Montpeiler on this one. Of course we see Sears already clamoring for a “regulated market” that doomed last years bill. If only we had gone with the first coop style bill grrrr.

    I am ok with just two plants but to be honest my biggest fear is this roadside testing garbage. I drive stoned on regular basis and so does 99% of everyone else I know who uses it. Most of us drive better and if anything it helps avoiding the stress of the daily commute road rage, tailgaters etc. I know this is not what the anti crowd wants to hear but it is the plain truth. My fear is that regular users whether high or not will be ticketed and arrested for DUI just because there is a trace in our systems. As Mr. Levy suggests we should have a system or test in place that determines your ability to drive not whats in your system.

    I have zero faith the State will take action on this. Sadly it seems that the only thing they can do in Montpelier these days is pass laws fighting Trump. My they got that one through quick!

  • 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 even glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Nationwide!

  • Nicole Boar

    Practically everyone who wants cannabis is able to get it anyway, so VT should get smart and legalize it and tax it, then the State would have all the money it needs for everything it wants to do. Cannabis is a “good” weed, with many health benefits. I would like to see the PTSD vets on it and off heroin since heroin and alcohol is addicting, but Cannabis is NOT! Stop wasting time and money Vermont and legalize it already!

  • Let’s find out how many drinking and driving accidents there are, and how many people are hurt /killed because of them. How many alcoholics are there? How many people are suffering/dying from alcohol-related illnesses? HOW MANY domestic violence and assault cases due to alcohol consumption? Okay- now let’s use the same criteria for marijuana…I’ll wait.

  • Tom Kauffmann

    are evidenced-based studies showing smoking marijuana can reduce pain, thereby
    becoming a substitute for opioids. Similar studies suggest smoking marijuana
    which has been enhanced by technologically improved cultivation processes
    (resulting in higher levels of THC) may cause schizophrenia in a small subset
    of the population. This indicates to me there are many unanswered questions
    about what until recently has been a minimally-researched substance (due to
    its classification as a schedule 1 drug.) For all the “responsible”
    adult marijuana users, well, as adults you have the right to do as you please
    and if you want to break the laws you don’t agree with, go ahead. However, for
    legislators who have to decide legalization’s effect on the rest of us law-abiding
    citizens, I’d encourage long and hard thinking about legalizing another
    mind-altering substance. It’s bad enough we have alcohol. Let’s not add another
    problem to the mix.

    • Brian Kelly

      Contrary to what prohibitionists are so desperately trying to get the public to believe wholeheartedly and without question, legalizing marijuana IS NOT adding anything new into our society that wasn’t always there and widely available already.

      Marijuana has been ingrained within our society since the days of our founding fathers and part of human culture since biblical times, for thousands of years.

      So, since marijuana has always been with us and humans already have thousands upon thousands of years worth of experience with marijuana, what great calamities and “Doomsday Scenarios” do prohibitionists really think will happen now due to current legalization efforts that have never ever happened before in all human history?

      Legalize Nationwide!

  • Brian Kelly

    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 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.

  • Brian Kelly

    “Marijuana is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol”

    “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say”

    “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23

    Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

    Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.”

    “The report discovered that marijuana is 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Researchers were able to determine this by comparing the lethal doses with the amount of typical use. Through this approach, marijuana had the lowest mortality risk to users out of all the drugs they studied. In fact—because the numbers were crossed with typical daily use—marijuana is the only drug that tested as “low risk.”

  • Brian Kelly

    The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

    Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!