Although there was a great deal of hope that Vermont was destined to become the first state in the nation to end prohibition by way of the state legislature, the House of Representatives had different plans — sabotaging the possibility of marijuana being legalized in 2016.
On Tuesday, the House voted 121-to-28 against a proposal handed down by the Senate in February that would have established a taxed and regulated cannabis industry similar to what is currently underway in Colorado and Washington. The measure was designed to legalize weed for adults 21 and over, allowing the herb to be purchased from retail outlets across the state. Although it was originally written in the language of S. 241 to include home cultivation and cannabis cafes, the Senate eliminated both of those provisions in order to persuade smoother passage in the House – it didn’t work.
Although two separate House committees introduced their respective visions of legal weed earlier last month, the chamber opted to toss out any semblance of a compromise. In a vote of 70-to-77, the House killed a measure that would have taken the state’s decriminalization law a step further by stripping away the criminal penalties for anyone caught growing up to two plants. Some lawmakers reportedly voted against the proposal due to concerns that it did not go far enough to remedy the problems brought on by criminalization.
It was revealed earlier in the week that the issue of bringing legal weed to the Green Mountain would not likely to be pushed through by the House before the session came to a screeching halt. House Speaker Shap Smith told reporters that it appeared the marijuana issue had stalled indefinitely.
“We have had it pass through the judiciary and the Ways and Means Committee,” Smith said. “It’s not clear whether either version that came through one of those committees has the votes on the house floor. It also has an uphill climb on the appropriations committee, so if I was a betting person I would not bet on anything coming through.”
However, as a consolation prize, the House did throw the state a bone by pushing through a proposal aimed at creating a task force that would research how a taxed and regulated pot market might impact Vermont. The apparent goal of this cheap legislation is to come up with recommendations for the next round of debates — a move that could prolong Vermont’s prohibitionary standard for at least another year.
Strangely, local marijuana advocates seemed optimistic Tuesday after learning that Vermont’s dream of legal weed was shot down only to emerge with the possibility of the state conducting a study to bring about legalization sometime in the future. Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project told Cannabis Now that the task force “will move Vermont further toward enacting sensible marijuana regulation laws… we appreciate their efforts to move the state in a more sensible direction.”
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who demanded the state legislature pull it together in regards to pot reform in 2016, understands the state got ripped off at the hands of the House chamber.
“The War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition has failed,” Shumlin said a statement. “I want to thank those House members who recognize that and worked to move this issue forward. It is incredibly disappointing, however, that a majority of the House has shown a remarkable disregard for the sentiment of most Vermonters who understand that we must pursue a smarter policy when it comes to marijuana in this state.”
To make matters worse, the House also rejected a measure put forth by House Minority Leader Don Turner that would have put a non-binding referendum on the November ballot in order to gauge where Vermont voters actually stand on the issue of legal weed.
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