Last year a bill that would have legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana was passed in the Senate but ultimately died for lack of support in the House. This year there were two different bills introduced in the House – one that merely aimed to legalize possession and personal cultivation of marijuana and another that would build off that to tax and regulate the commercial sale – and until last week it looked like they were both going to miss the deadline to have a vote by at the House floor. At the very last minute the House Judiciary Committee held an unscheduled vote on the first bill where it passed with a vote of 8-3.
Vermont has in a way, been leading the way as far as having the potential to legalize recreational use of cannabis through legislature – something the nation has yet to see, though the prospect is becoming increasingly popular among ambitious lawmakers around the country. It appears that the majority of lawmakers realize cannabis legalization needs to be a priority, they just can’t seem to agree on the best way to go about making this change with the least chance of having anything negative come out of the situation. One example is Vermont Governor Phil Scott who has voiced concerns over lack of accurate roadside testing for marijuana intoxication.
Of those on the Judiciary Committee who voted in favor of the bill only one was a Republican, Representative Thomas Burditt. The other three Republicans voted against the bill although, Representative Janssen Willhoit said he is no longer “firmly against” the idea of legalization, but believes this bill is flawed since the only way to obtain marijuana would be to grow it or buy it illegally from someone who is.
“I like this bill,” Burditt said. “There is minimal government intervention, and when I look at some of the other states that have legalized, I look at maximum government intervention. You hear all the horror stories coming out of the states where they have the maximum intervention.”
The bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee would legalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or up to five grams of hashish. It would also allow for the home cultivation of up to two mature cannabis plants and up to four immature plants, as long as they are kept out of the view of minors who may be living in the home.
The entire system is modeled off of the legalization law that was passed in Washington D.C. where taxing and regulating the sale of the plant was not an option for their ballot initiative. When it comes to concerns such as intoxicated driving and increased use by teens, Burditt was quick to remind people that most of these problems have not been as prominent as some would lead you to believe citing the fact that teen use is actually dropping in states where cannabis is legal (although this is with a taxed and regulated system which is not covered in this bill).
“There really aren’t problems in states that have legalized. Problems that were projected. It was going to be the Wild West as far as people smoking and driving, that never came to fruition,” Burditt said. “The other fear of kids using well, rates of teen marijuana use are dropping faster in states that have legalized.”
A second bill which would have built off this one and created a taxed and regulated commercial industry similar to that in Colorado will remain in the hands of the House Judiciary Committee for now. However, Senator Dick Sears said, “Where we go from here and what passes the Senate may be different,” meaning that while the bill is in the Senate they have the chance to amend the bill, adding provisions for a regulated industry. If this is the case, it would then have to pass a second vote of the House before reaching the governor’s desk.
No matter what happens from here, it is encouraging that this bill was pushed through. Even if it was at the very last minute, the bill’s approval from the House Judiciary Committee shows that lawmakers really are taking this issue seriously and realizing that legalization is something that needs to be done. It may take a lot of talk and back and forth and compromise before a legalization bill reaches Governor Scott’s desk, but at least it’s finally going somewhere.
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