Vermont: Marijuana bill fails to pass, but legislators look to 2018

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The bill that would have legalized recreational marijuana in Vermont has gone up in smoke, but legislators are saying: Wait until next year.

S.22, the Senate bill that would have allowed adults 21 and older to have up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to grow up to two mature plants and four immature plants on private property, would have taken effect in July.

Vermont legislators hoped a veto session that wrapped up last Wednesday would result in a path forward for the bill, the final draft of which included some of the compromises requested by Gov. Phil Scott, such as tougher penalties for underage smokers and those smoking around young children.

Scott also wanted personnel changes in a commission the bill would have created, assigned to study how a recreational marijuana economy in Vermont would operate.

Lawmakers got to work before the veto session to craft a bill they hoped would satisfy Scott, but to no avail.

“I’m disappointed that the governor vetoed something which was, in essence, a compromise much earlier on,” said Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury. He’s not surprised, and said it wasn’t as important as the state budget compromise, but “it is disappointing not to move the ball forward on something that seems to be inevitable. We could have gotten a lot done this summer. We’ll just have to pick it up in January.”

To Stevens, the issue isn’t what economic boons Vermonters could realize by legalizing and one day selling the drug.

“It’s not about the money to me; it’s about the control of the product,” Stevens said. He thinks marijuana should be sold in the same way the state handles sales of alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets.

To Rep. Matt Hill, D-Wolcott, the snuffing out of the marijuana bill was “the biggest disappointment for me.

“Even people that are anti-pot” are asking, “‘Why are we prolonging this fight?’” Hill said. “It’s not going to do anything, really. Hopefully next year we’ll cram out the same bill early in the session so there won’t be any procedural hang-ups.”

Hill said the atmosphere in the Statehouse after legislators realized marijuana would remain an illegal drug was one of disappointment.

“It’s a big range of emotions. I was disappointed. A lot of people were angry,” Hill said. He called the issue a “no-brainer” and expects to face it again in the next legislative session.

“We have language right now that the governor agrees with, the Senate agrees with and the House would agree with if we had the opportunity to vote,” Hill said.

Rep. Dan Noyes, D-Wolcott, expected the bill to flunk in the veto session, but “I think it will come up right away” in the next legislative session.

Rep. Bernie Juskiewicz, R-Cambridge, is glad the bill flunked out. Much like the governor, he wanted to see a way to test impaired drivers before making marijuana legal.

He also wanted to know how realistic projected revenues would be, when they were based on a study that held the caveat Vermont would be the only state with legalized marijuana in the region. New York and Massachusetts have also both begun studying legalization since the report came out.

“I feel comfortable with where the bill ended up, and we will take it up again in January,” Juskiewicz said.

Hopefully by then the bill’s supporters will come forward with solutions everyone can live with, he said.

“I think predicting what will happen next session with legalizing marijuana is doomed to failure,” said Rep. Adam Greshin, I-Warren. “I would have been comfortable with taking the issue up during the veto session last week.”

Rep. Theresa Wood, D-Waterbury, said the bill’s failure to launch puts legislators behind by about six months, until the next legislative session begins, but she thinks the additional time to think will be a benefit.

“When this comes back next session, I see no problem passing it,” Wood said.

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Source: 420Intel – Politics

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