Courts & Corrections

Frustrated by House inaction, Senate to move on marijuana

Jeanette White
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, speaks in support of marijuana legalization last year. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
As a marijuana legalization bill idles in a House committee, senators are planning to force the issue forward themselves.

A proposal to create a tax-and-regulate legal marijuana system is poised to come up for a vote Friday in the Senate.

The language, which will be offered as an amendment on a House-passed bill related to drug possession penalties, is one of two last-minute measures senators are planning to put forward after legalization measures stalled in the House.

The other amendment would set up a committee to make recommendations about legalization.

After twice passing marijuana legalization last year only to see it die in the House, Senate leaders said any move on the issue this year would need to start on the House side.

The House Judiciary Committee did move forward on the issue, passing H.170, a bill that would have legalized adult possession of limited amounts of marijuana without creating a regulated or taxed system.

It was expected to come up for a vote on the House floor in March, but at the last minute was sidelined to another committee for further study amid uncertainty whether there were enough votes for it to pass.

Dick Sears
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington. File photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he and others in the Senate had “fully counted” on the passage of H.170 in the House. He and several senators met informally to discuss how they might like to amend the House bill.

“We’ve been trying to figure out now what do we do, cause it ain’t getting to us,” Sears said Wednesday.

Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, will resurrect a proposal the Senate passed last year to create a tax-and-regulate marijuana system. White’s amendment draws heavily on the text of S.241 from last year but makes some changes. The new version would allow Vermonters to grow small amounts of marijuana at home and would put some responsibility for regulation with the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

White plans to offer the amendment to H.167, a bill the House passed last month that would direct legislative counsel to study and make recommendations on changing penalties for drug possession. The Senate Judiciary Committee substantially revised the proposal to study pretrial services and access to drug treatment.

White does not expect her amendment or H.170 to pass the House and become law this year.

“There’s no way that either bill is going to make it to the finish line this year,” she said.

However, she would like to have a proposal that includes a regulated market put forward before the session ends, providing a foundation for further discussions over the summer and when the Legislature returns for the second half of the biennium.

White has concerns about the model the House Judiciary Committee proposed. She feels it would encourage black market activity rather than minimize it. With Massachusetts and Maine on track to implement legal sales, the model would also encourage Vermonters to go out of state, she believes. In her southern Vermont district, it may be a short drive across the border to a marijuana dispensary, she said.

“Maybe Massachusetts will have one right there on (Interstate) 91,” she said.

Sears will put forward the other amendment to create a commission to study and make recommendations on implementing marijuana legalization.

“Everybody, including the governor, has said (legalization is) inevitable, someday it’s going to happen. So let’s be prepared when that happens,” Sears said.

He is not certain which bill he will propose to attach it to yet, but it will likely come up on the Senate floor in the near future.

It’s not the first panel convened to study the issue. After the legalization bill failed last year, House and Senate leaders agreed to make marijuana the subject of six off-session joint legislative committee meetings through the summer and fall.

Sears argues this committee would be different because it would include members of the public and appointees of the governor in addition to legislators.

Sears is “hopeful” his amendment would find support in the House and pass this year.

“They seem to like studying stuff. This would be an opportunity to study it,” Sears said.

The future of marijuana legalization in the House remains uncertain. House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, said Tuesday that the House Democrats do not have a plan for H.170 in the near future.

“We are still working as a caucus on what we’re going to do as next step on the legalization of marijuana bill,” Krowinski said.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • robert bristow-johnson

    i dunno how either of my House reps have voted on tabling or diverting processing of the marijuana bill, but i’ll be asking them about it.
    i called Mitzi Johnson’s office about it the last time it was redirected to, yet, another committee and i am unsatisfied by their response.

  • robert bristow-johnson

    Appears to be time to be asking our House representatives how they stand on H. 170.

    Time for political accountability.

    • Adrienne Raymond

      Agreed. Our national political system no longer listens to us, but I still believed that VT was better than that. Apparently not. I’ll be checking on my Senators and Rep., too.

      • robert bristow-johnson

        the VT Senate does not appear to be the problem. it’s the VT House. check with your House Rep(s) and see where they’re at on this.

  • Mary Daly

    I will say again, that with all the problems we have in this State with drug addiction, it is beyond stupid to legalize Marijuana this year or next or any year after that. Marijuana is a mind altering drug and should NOT be legalized.

    • Matthew Davis

      It’s already legalized for medical use….

    • Jamie Carter

      What if legalizing marijuana eliminated the opiate epidemic? Think about it… if marijuana was readily available do you think more or less people would be abusing painkillers?

      Here’s the answer… In CO the number of over does deaths due to opaites is at it’s lowest levels in 6 years. Medicinal marijuana has been shown to reduce pain based opiate over dose deaths by 25%.

      Do you want a bunch of stoners out wandering about or a bunch of pill poppers?

      • Neil Johnson

        Medicinal makes so much sense. But really do we want stoners or pill poppers wandering around? We don’t want drinkers or smokers of cigarettes, to which we’ve fined and relegated to certain non-public areas of society.

        It’s all about money, not about people using pot. If we had a minor ($5) penalty for smoking say in public, it would solve all problems. A main reason laws are on the books is to act as a sign post. Neil…don’t go 50 mph here….it’s a 30mph zone. Making it legal gives people the idea, this is good for you. It’s not magic smoke, smoke inhalation isn’t good for you, ask any fire fighter or oncology nurse. If you happen to have the gene that leads to lung cancer easily from smoking, you’ll die very, very young. Ask me how I know.

        But people want to be drug dealers, our state does so desperately, our smokers do almost as much and more importantly our lobbyist do.

        Vermont politics is once again being ruined by big money.

        • robert bristow-johnson

          problem is, no way for legal growers and no way to tax it.

          much better to “control” it by bumping it down a few notches from Schedule 1 to Schedule N where N>3, and regulate and tax it (make sure the gubmint knows who’s growing legally and how much they’re growing, who’s selling, how much is legally sold, how much tax has been collected from those sales). that’s the gubmint’s bizness.

          regulate it as strictly as alcohol and tobacco are regulated. same age limit. (i s’pose there would have to be a “Minor in possession” misdemeanor rap just as there is for alcohol.)

          • Neil Johnson

            They can’t regulate drugs out of schools and prisons now and it’s illegal.

            It wouldn’t be legal growing, it would be grow it out of site or $5 fine, don’t’ show off your plants to the po-po and also the po-po wouldn’t be prioritizing a search for it.

    • David Bell

      Pretending cannabis is the same as an opiate is beyond false.

  • Ron Jacobs

    The fact that just a couple House legislators have been able to derail legalization is suspicious. Who is pressuring them to sideline this bill despite the majority support legalization has in the state of Vermont? Cops? Liquor interests?

    • Louis Meyers, M.D.

      One could also ask which lobbyists have the ear of Lt. Governor Zuckerman, who has been one of the most ardent spokesmen for large-scale marijuana cultivation in Vermont.

      • robert bristow-johnson

        the LG is clearly representing the position of the majority of Vermonters on this. Z’s ear is listening to us.

        • Jamie Carter

          Actually he is more likely representing his own self interests… at some point the law will allow for profit sale and there is no doubt that Lt. Gov will be adding it to the crop list. But, I do agree. Every poll for some time has indicated majority support. With neighboring states legalizing it, waiting is just plain foolish.

          • David Zuckerman

            Actually, when I introduced S.95 I committed that as the sponsor, while I should be treated like anyone else with an equal shot at business success, I would not be entering the cannabis growing business because it would appear to be a conflict of interest. While frustrating (pay for legislators is no great shakes) that legislators become restricted from entering an equally competitive business environment, that was the position I took as I did not want the discussion of conflict of interest to become the debate. The issue is mote important than my ability to make a profit on it. I understand the gut reaction to think otherwise, so I am not offended at all. But it is frustrating that politics has gotten to the point where everything generate such scepticism. I am still hopeful that one day elected officials and the process will be viewed with more public support than what (in particular Washington) has generated.

      • Scott Kay

        A farmer arguing for the right of Vermont property owners to grow marijuana doesn’t take the work of lobbyists.

      • David Zuckerman

        Louis Meyers, Please use facts to represent whatever you believe. If you want to look at what I introduced a number of years ago, it was S.95 with unlimited grow licenses and home grow. It had provisions for promoting less energy intensive production, better pay for workers, and allowed for the many current underground producers in the state to come above ground and get licenses. It was not a bill to consolidate cannabis in a few large growers. And when S.241 was offered in the Senate it was Sen. Rodgers and I that offered the amendment to decrease the number of larger grow operators and increase the number of smaller ones. Facts matter.

        • Scott Kay

          Unfortunately, a farmer does have to come to his own defence! Thank you for responding Lt. Governor Zuckerman.

  • Luke Lamone

    “With Massachusetts and Maine on track to implement legal sales, the model would also encourage Vermonters to go out of state, she believes. In her southern Vermont district, it may be a short drive across the border to a marijuana dispensary, she said.
    “Maybe Massachusetts will have one right there on (Interstate) 91,” she said.”

    Sen. White has it exactly right. No doubt thousands of Vermonters will be regularly crossing state lines to replenish their cannabis supply. When will the House get its head out of the sand (or someplace else) and follow the public will on this issue. Polls show a clear majority of Vermonters support legalization. In a few months legalization will be a fait accompli for most Vermonters since a legally obtainable source will be just across the borders. Then Gov. Scott, who has been engaged in perpetual handwringing over the pot issue will have accomplished the worst of his overblown fears. Namely thanks to border-crossing Vermonters, the very substantial tax revenue will be enjoyed by MA and ME while our highways will be devastated by crazed stoned drivers (at least according to Gov. ‘Cassandra’ Scott and his ‘Reefer Madness’ fearing allies in the House.)

  • John farrell

    Committees, caucus’, discussions, research and development more of the same stuff.
    We are paying you to be progressive and take action. Earn your pay and pass some cannabis legislation. I’m tired of all the hand wringing!

  • Louis Meyers, M.D.

    Perhaps the House representatives who oppose large-scale legalization of marijuana are simply reflecting the wishes of their constituents throughout the state.

    • Gary Dickinson

      It is hard to tell without a statewide referendum, which isn’t allowed under the VT Constitution. Using your reasoning, the reason there isn’t an ethics bill with teeth is because the voters don’t want it. Doubt it.

      • robert bristow-johnson

        i can’t remember his name, but some Vermont Rep had promulgated an unofficial survey for voters to express their opinions on selected subjects.
        Legalization of marijuana was one of them.

        There is no reason that the legislature can’t ask the voters (on a ballot question) non-bindingly what they support. We wouldn’t need a change to the Vermont constitution to do that, i don’t think.

        • Gary Dickinson

          A non-binding referendum could certainly be done, and find out once and for all the answer of where the voters of the state fall on the issue. One reason it hasn’t been done, however, is that answer is not desired by some of those elected to represent the people.

    • Clancy DeSmet

      Vermonters strongly support eliminating penalties for cannabis possession. Cannabis prohibition has been more harmful to society than the plant itself. Teen usage has not increased in CO, OR or WA despite the knowledge of harm. Roughly 80K Vermonters use cannabis monthly. The illicit market needs to be eradicated, and home cultivation should be allowed. The current decriminalization law negatively impacts poor Vermonters. We need sensible drug policy.

      • Glenn Thompson

        “The current decriminalization law negatively impacts poor Vermonters.”

        Seriously? How does that work if certain poor people don’t smoke the stuff?

        • Clancy DeSmet

          For those people who work at or below minimum wage paying the fine – $200 – for possessing less than one ounce could consume their take-home pay for the better part of a full work week. See the Rand study.

        • Clancy DeSmet

          If a low income person does use cannabis and gets caught the penalty is far too high when compared to someone from a higher income. Basically, there should be no penalties for using cannabis.

    • David Bell

      What is your basis for this conclusion?

      • mick kay

        Or possible they just understand that prohibition doesn’t work. Except for the Mob.

  • Clancy DeSmet

    At least there is some sign of courage in the statehouse. The will of the people should be honored. Legalization is necessary.

  • Neil Johnson

    Vermont law, we’ll fine your idling your car to long.

    But we want you to be able to inhale as much smoke as possible.

  • Jon Corrigan

    Every recreational purchaser should have to attend a safety course and be subjected to a mandatory national background check. ‘If it saves even one life it will be worth it.’

    • Clancy DeSmet

      Preposterous. Are they going to subject citizens who consume alcohol and tobacco products – which are far worse for your health – to these invasions?

      • Jon Corrigan

        Recreational use of this drug is still prohibited by federal law (unlike alcohol and tobacco products), and its use prevents one from legally purchasing a firearm. Any individual desiring to use recreational marijuana should be subjected to a national background check so that information can be forwarded to the FBI for use in validating information submitted on ATF Form 4473.

  • JustinTurco

    I don’t know if my Reps are listening in, but I for one am not in favor of legalizing pot. I was raised on the concept of saying no to drugs and I still believe it’s the best way for a man to remain productive and self sufficient. I was told just today by a member of Teen Challenge that pot “IS” one of the gateway drugs to the hard stuff. We need to be indoctrinating our kids that they should say NO to drugs and alcohol. Not the opposite. Legalization just legitimizes yet another drain on the common man and society. I’ll stick to this thinking and if Vermont decides to follow suit with other states, I’ll shake my head, keep moving forward as best I can, and hopefully not to be bogged down any further by wasteful, foolish decision making in Montpelier.

    • Clancy DeSmet

      Cannabis is not a gateway – people need to stop perpetuating this myth. The majority of people in VT think we should legalize it. Let’s be honest here.