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Vermont is About to Make History: Bill Would Legalize Cannabis Through Legislation

Champlain Valley Vermont Cannabis Now Magazine
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Vermont is About to Make History: Bill Would Legalize Cannabis Through Legislation

Vermont’s Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin wants to award his supporters with a token of appreciation in his last year of office. Vermont is headed to legalize cannabis through legislation rather than putting the issue on a ballot initiative. Governor Peter Shumlin is a avid supporter and expected to sign the bill.

Thursday the Vermont Senate approved a bill 17-12 to legalize marijuana and the bill advances to the state House. S.241 would amend Vermont’s cannabis laws, which have already been decriminalized. Vermont, aside from being the home of Bernie Sanders and Phish, is a New England safe haven for cannabis enthusiasm. One in eight Vermonters say they smoke cannabis on a monthly basis with one in three Vermonters aged 18-25 admitting to toking up.

At least 16 states are have submitted bills aiming for cannabis legalization, but few states have a better chance than Vermont.

Last January, Governor Shumlin teamed up with Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Richard Sears. Together they unveiled the framework for the end of cannabis prohibition in Vermont. The bill would impose a 25 percent tax sales tax and legalize cannabis for adults over 21. If the bill passes, it would go into effect by 2018. “The War on Drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition,” Gov. Shumlin stated. “Under the status quo, marijuana use is widespread, Vermonters have little difficulty procuring it for personal use, and the shadows of prohibition make it nearly impossible to address key issues like prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and dealing with those driving under the influence who are already on Vermont’s roads. The system has failed. The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that.”

One opponent threatens to destroy all that Governor Shumlin hopes to accomplish. Republican Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott is running for office next year and has already voiced his opinion against cannabis legalization in Vermont.

“In my opinion, this bill is as much about the money as it is about ending a failed prohibition, and this major policy shift should not be about money and commercialization, Scott stated. “I therefore do not support this proposal at this time.”

The redirected revenue would go to prevention of substance abuse, the treatment of substance abuse, law enforcement for drugged driving and a general fund. The revenue will be split equally four ways. It would remove civil penalties for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis. The bill, which is still being drafted, would open up 10-20 cultivator licenses and 20-40 retailer licenses by July 1, 2018. All cannabis businesses would report to the Department of Public Safety. Vermont’s unique bill would only legalize cannabis in its natural flower state. Concentrates would be prohibited for sale. In the original text, home growing would also be banned. Senator Rebecca Balint switched her stance to support the bill only once the Senate changed the home-growing restriction.

Lawmakers have only until the end of May to make a move, when Vermont’s current legislative session ends.

Every agrees that Vermont is suffering from opiate abuse of “epidemic proportions,” however, not everyone is convinced that cannabis legalization will solve it.

“The questions that keep coming up for me is, how will this make Vermont healthier and how will this improve the quality of life? asked Debbie Haskins of Smart Alternatives for Marijuana-Vermont. “I don’t think this bill does it. It’s the wrong direction for us to be heading.”

Do you live in Vermont and want to see cannabis legalized? Let us know.

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